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Title: Ruth Erskine's Cross
Author: Pansy
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: “He has made everything beautiful in his time.” p. 112.]



RUTH ERSKINE’S CROSSES

    BY
    PANSY
    Author of “Ester Ried,” “Julia Ried,” “Four Girls at Chautauqua,”
    “Chautauqua Girls at Home,” etc.

[Illustration]

    BOSTON
    LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY



    COPYRIGHT, 1879,
    BY
    D. LOTHROP AND COMPANY.

    _All rights reserved._


    PANSY
    TRADE-MARK REGISTERED JUNE 4, 1895.



CONTENTS.


                                  PAGE.
    CHAPTER I.
    HER CROSS SEEMS HEAVY             7

    CHAPTER II.
    SIDE ISSUES                      24

    CHAPTER III.
    A CROSS OF LEAD                  40

    CHAPTER IV.
    BITTER HERBS                     56

    CHAPTER V.
    SEEKING HELP                     72

    CHAPTER VI.
    FROM DIFFERENT STANDPOINTS       88

    CHAPTER VII.
    ONE DROP OF OIL                 104

    CHAPTER VIII.
    FINDING ONE’S CALLING           121

    CHAPTER IX.
    A SOCIETY CROSS                 136

    CHAPTER X.
    OTHER PEOPLE’S CROSSES          151

    CHAPTER XI.
    A NEWLY-SHAPED CROSS            167

    CHAPTER XII.
    THE CROSS OF HELPLESSNESS       182

    CHAPTER XIII.
    LOOKING FOR AN EASY YOKE        197

    CHAPTER XIV.
    “THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY”        212

    CHAPTER XV.
    RESTS                           227

    CHAPTER XVI.
    SHADOWED JOYS                   243

    CHAPTER XVII.
    DUTY’S BURDEN                   258

    CHAPTER XVIII.
    EMBARRASSMENT AND MERRIMENT     274

    CHAPTER XIX.
    MY DAUGHTERS                    290
    CHAPTER XX.
    A SISTER NEEDED                 306

    CHAPTER XXI.
    TRYING QUESTIONS                321

    CHAPTER XXII.
    “THAT WHICH SATISFIETH NOT”     337

    CHAPTER XXIII.
    WHEREFORE?                      350

    CHAPTER XXIV.
    “HEARKEN UNTO ME”               364

    CHAPTER XXV.
    “BITTER-SWEET”                  379

    CHAPTER XXVI.
    “THESE BE THY GODS”             393

    CHAPTER XXVII.
    THE BAPTISM OF SUFFERING        408

    CHAPTER XXVIII.
    “THE OIL OF JOY”                420



RUTH ERSKINE’S CROSSES.



CHAPTER I.

HER CROSS SEEMS HEAVY.


SHE stood in the hall, waiting. She heard the thud of trunks and
valises on the pavement outside. She heard her father’s voice giving
orders to driver and porter. She wondered why she did not step forward
and open the door. How would other girls greet their mothers? She
tried to think. Some of them she had seen—school-girls, with whom she
had gone home, in her earlier life, who were wont to rush into their
mother’s arms, and, with broken exclamations of delight, smother her
with kisses How strange it would be if she should do any such thing as
that! She did not know how to welcome a mother! How should she? She had
never learned.

Then there was that other one, almost harder to meet than a mother;
because her father, after all, had the most responsibility about
the mother; it was really his place to look after her needs and her
comfort. But this sister would naturally look to her for exclusive
attention. A sister! She, Ruth Erskine, with a grown-up sister, only a
few years younger than herself! And yet one whom she had not only never
seen, but, until the other day, of whose existence she had never heard!
How perfectly unnatural it all was!

Oh, if father had only, _only_ done differently! This cry she had
groaned out from the depths of her soul a hundred times, during the
two weeks of the father’s absence. After she had turned away from
the useless wail, “Oh, that all this had never been!” and resolutely
resolved not to be weak and worthless, and desert her father in
his need, and give herself up to vain regrets, she found that the
regretting only took another form. Since it was, and must be, and
could not honorably be gotten away from, why had he not faced the
necessity long ago, when she was a child? Why had they not grown up
together, feeling and understanding that they were sisters, and owed
to each other a sister’s forbearance?—she could not bring herself to
say _love_. If her father had only settled it years and years ago,
and brought the woman home, and made her position assured; and if the
people had long and long ago settled down to understanding it all, what
a blessed thing it would have been! Over and over, in various forms,
had this argument been held with Ruth and her rebellious heart, and it
had not helped her. It served to make her heart throb wildly, as she
stood there waiting. It served to make the few minutes that she waited
seem to her like avenging hours. It served to make her feel that her
lot was fearfully, exceptionally, hopelessly hard.

There had been daughters before, who were called on to meet new
mothers. Yes, but this was an old, old mother—so old that, in the
nature of things, she ought, years ago, to have been reconciled to
the event, and to have accepted it as a matter of course. But what
daughter, before this, had been called upon suddenly to greet, and to
receive in social equality an own sister? The more she thought of it,
the more unnerved she felt.

And so the door was opened at last by Judge Erskine himself. His
daughter had decreed that no servant should be in attendance. She
wanted as few lookers-on as possible.

“Well, daughter,” he said; and, even in that swift moment, she wondered
if he ever spoke that quiet-toned, “well, daughter,” to that other
one. Then she did come forward and hold out her hand, and receive her
father’s lingering kiss. Something in that, and in the look of his
eyes, as he put her back from him, and gazed for an instant into hers,
steadied her pulses, and made her turn with a welcome to the strangers.
There was an almost pleading look in those eyes of his.

“How do you do?” she said, simply, and not coldly; and she held out her
hand to the small, faded-looking woman, who shrank back, and seemed
bewildered, if not frightened. “Do you feel very tired with the long
journey?”

“Susan,” said her father, to the third figure, who was still over by
the door, engaged in counting the shawl-straps and satchels. “This is
my daughter Ruth.”

There was an air of ownership about this sentence, which was infinitely
helpful to Ruth. What if he had said, “This is your sister Ruth?” She
gave her hand. A cold hand it was, and she felt it tremble; but, even
in that supreme moment, she noticed that Susan’s hair was what, in
outspoken language, would be called red; and that she was taller than
accorded with grace, and her wrap, falling back from its confinings,
showed her dress to be short-waisted, and otherwise ill-fitting. Long
afterward Ruth smiled, as she thought of taking in such details at such
a moment.

It transpired that there was still another stranger awaiting
introduction—a gentleman, tall and grave, and with keen gray eyes, that
seemed looking through this family group, and drawing conclusions.

“My daughter, Judge Burnham.” This was Judge Erskine’s manner of
introduction. For the time, at least, he ignored the fact that he had
any other daughter. Very little attention did the daughter bestow
on Judge Burnham; eyes and wits were on the alert elsewhere. Here
were these new people to be gotten to their rooms, and then gotten
down again; and there was that awful supper-table to endure! She gave
herself to the business of planning an exit.

“Father, you want to go directly to your rooms, I suppose? I have rung
for Thomas, to attend to Judge Burnham, and I will do the honors of the
house for Susan.”

Very carefully trained were face and tone. Beyond a certain curious
poise of head, which those who knew her understood betokened a strong
pressure of self-control, there was nothing unusual. Really, the worst
for her was to come. If she could but have made herself feel that
to send a servant with this new sister would be the proper thing to
do, it would have been so much easier. But for the watchful eyes and
commenting tongue of that same servant she would have done it. But she
sternly resolved that everything which, to the servant’s eyes, would
look like formality, or like hospitality extended simply to guests,
should be dispensed with. It would do to ring for Thomas, to attend
Judge Burnham; but a daughter of the house must have no other escort
than herself. On the way up-stairs she wondered what she should say
when the room door closed on them both. Here, in the hall, it was only
necessary to ask which satchel should go up immediately, and which
trunk went to which room. But, when all the business was settled, what
then?

She began the minute the attending servant deposited the satchels, and
departed:

“Do you need to make any change in dress before tea, and can I assist
you in any way?”

For answer, the young girl thus addressed turned toward her earnest
gray eyes—eyes that were full of some strong feeling that she was
holding back—and said, with eager, heartful tones:

“I am just as sorry for you as I can be. If there is any way in which I
can help to make the cross less heavy, I wish you would tell me what it
is.”

Now, this was the last sentence that Ruth Erskine had expected to hear.
She had studied over possible conversations, and schooled herself to
almost every form, but not this.

“What do you mean?” she asked, returning the earnest gaze with one
full of bewilderment.

“Why, I mean that I have some dim conception of how hard, how _awfully_
hard all this is! Two strangers to come into your home and claim, not
the attention accorded to guests, but the position belonging to home!
It is dreadful! I have felt so sorry for you, and for myself, all day,
that I could not keep the tears from my eyes. I want to make myself as
endurable as possible. If you will only show me how I will try very
hard.”

What was Ruth Erskine to reply to this? It _was_ hard; she felt too
truthful to disclaim it. Just now it seemed to her almost impossible to
endure it. She tried to turn it off lightly.

“Oh, we shall live through it,” she said, and the attempt to make her
voice unconstrained startled even herself. Susan abated not one whit
the earnestness in her voice.

“I know we shall,” she said. “Because it must be done—because it is
right—and because we each have an Almighty Helper. I asked your father,
and mine, as soon as ever I saw him, whether you were a Christian. It
seemed to me it would be an impossible ordeal if you were not. He _is_
my father, Ruth. I know it is hard for you to hear me use that name,
which you have supposed for so many years belonged exclusively to you.
If it had been right, I could almost have made myself promise never to
use it. But it wouldn’t be the right way to manage, I am sure. Ruth,
you and I shall both breathe freer, and understand each other better,
if we admit from the first, that father has done wrong in this thing.
Now I know that is dreadful to say. But remember, he is my father. I
am not to blame because he loved your mother better than he ever could
mine. I am not to blame for a bit of the tragedy any more than you are.
And I have been a sufferer, just as you are. All my life I have been
without a father’s love and care. All my life I have had to imagine
what the name ‘father’ must mean. I am not blaming him; I am simply
looking at facts. We shall do better to face this thing. I really had
something to forgive. He admitted it. I have forgiven him utterly, and
my heart just bleeds for him and for you. But then we shall, as you
say, get through all the embarrassments, and come off conquerors in
the end.”

Utter silence on Ruth’s part. How shall I confess to you that this
conversation disappointed and angered her? She was nerved to bear
heavy crosses. If this new sister had been arrogant, or cringing, or
insufferably rude and exacting, I think Ruth would have borne it well.
But this simple, quiet facing of difficulties like a general—this
grave announcement that she, too, had been a sufferer—even the steady
tone in which she pronounced that word “father,” gave Ruth a shiver
of horror. The worst of it was—yes, the very _worst_ of it was—this
girl had spoken truth. She _was_ a sufferer, and through no fault of
her own, through Judge Erskine’s pride and self-will. Here was the
sting—it was her father’s fault—this father who had been one of her
strongest sources of pride during all her proud days of life. “It is
true enough,” she told herself, bitterly. “But she need not have spoken
it—I don’t want to hear it.” And then she turned away and went out of
the room—went down-stairs, and paused in the hall again, resting her
arm on that chair and trying to still the tumult in her angry heart.

As for the sister, looking after her with sad eyes, she turned the key
on her at last, and then went over to the great, beautiful bed—more
beautiful than any on which she had ever slept—and bowed before it
on her knees. What if Ruth Erskine had had to contend with a sister
who never got down on her knees! Yet she positively did not think of
that. It seemed to her that nothing could make the cross more bitter
than it was. She opened the door at last, quietly enough, and went
forward to where her father was standing, waiting for her, or for some
one—_something_ to come to him and help him in his bewilderment. He
looked ten years older than when she saw him two weeks ago, and there
was that appealing glance in his eyes that touched his daughter. A
moment before she had felt bitter toward him. It was gone now.

“I brought Judge Burnham home with me,” he said, speaking quickly, as
if to forestall any words from her. “He is an old friend. He was a pet
of your mother’s, Ruth, in his boyhood, and he knew all about her, and
about——this. I thought it would be better than to be quite alone at
first.”

“Yes,” Ruth said, in a tone that might be assenting, or it might simply
be answering. In her heart she did not believe that it would be better
for them to have Judge Burnham in their family circle, and she wished
him away. Was not the ordeal hard enough without having an outsider to
look on and comment?

“When will you be ready for supper?” she asked, and, though she tried
to make her voice sound naturally, she knew it was cold and hard.

“Why, as soon as Judge Burnham and——they come down,” he said,
hesitatingly. What were they all going to call each other? Should he
say “your mother,” or should he say “Mrs. Erskine?” He could not tell
which of the two seemed most objectionable to him, so he concluded to
make that foolish compromise and say “they.”

“Where did you leave Susan?” he questioned.

“In her room.”

Ruth’s tone was colder than before. Judge Erskine essayed to help her.

“She is the only alleviating drop in this bitter cup,” he said, looking
anxiously at Ruth for an assuring word. “It has been a comfort to me to
think that she seemed kind and thoughtful, and in every way disposed to
do right. She will be a comfort to you, I hope, daughter.”

Poor Ruth! If her father had said, “She is perfectly unendurable to
me; you must contrive in some way that I shall not have to see her or
hear her name,” it would have been an absolute relief to his daughter’s
hard-strained, quivering nerves. It was almost like an insult to have
him talk about her being a help and a comfort! She turned from him
abruptly, and felt the relief which the opening door and the entrance
of Judge Burnham gave.

The supper-bell pealed its summons through the house, and Judge Erskine
went in search of his wife; but Ruth called Irish Kate to “tell Miss
Erskine that tea was ready,” flushing to the roots of her hair over
the name “Miss Erskine,” and feeling vexed and mortified when she
found that Judge Burnham’s grave eyes were on her. Mrs. Erskine was
a dumpy little woman, who wore a breakfast-shawl of bright blue and
dingy brown shades, over a green dress, the green being of the shade
that fought, not only with the wearer’s complexion, but with the blue
of the breakfast-shawl. The whole effect was simply dreadful! Ruth,
looking at it, and at her, taking her in mentally from head to foot,
shuddered visibly. What a contrast to the grandeur of the man beside
her! And yet, what a pitiful thing human nature was, that it could be
so affected by adverse shades of blue and green, meeting on a sallow
skin! Before the tea was concluded, it transpired that there were worse
things than ill-fitting blues and greens. Mrs. Judge Erskine murdered
the most common phrases of the king’s English! She said, “Susan and
me was dreadful tired!” And she said, “There was enough for him and
I!” She even said his’n and your’n, those most detestable of all
provincialisms!

And Ruth Erskine sat opposite her, and realized that this woman must be
introduced into society as Mrs. Judge Erskine, her father’s wife! There
had been an awkward pause about the getting seated at the table. Ruth
had held back in doubt and confusion, and Mrs. Erskine had not seemed
to know what her proper place should be; and Judge Erskine had said, in
pleading tone: “Daughter, take your old place, this evening.” And then
Ruth had gone forward, with burning cheeks, and taken the seat opposite
her father, as usual, leaving Mrs. Erskine to sit at his right, where
she had arranged her own sitting. And this circumstance, added to all
the others, had held her thoughts captive, so that she heard not a word
of her father’s low, reverent blessing. Perhaps, if she had heard, it
might have helped her through the horrors of that evening. There was
one thing that helped her. It was the pallor of her father’s face. She
almost forgot herself and her own embarrassment in trying to realize
the misery of his position. Her voice took a gentle, filial tone when
she addressed him, that, if she had but known it, was like drops of oil
poured on the inflamed wounds which bled in his heart.

Altogether, that evening stood out in Ruth Erskine’s memory, years
afterward, as the most trying one of her life. There came days that
were more serious in their results—days that left deeper scars—days of
solemn sorrow, and bold, outspoken trouble. But for troubles, so petty
that they irritated by their very smallness, while still they stung,
this evening held foremost rank.

“I wonder,” she said, in inward irritation, as she watched Mrs.
Erskine’s awkward transit across the room, on her father’s arm, and
observed that her dress was too short for grace, and too low in the
neck, and hung in swinging plaits in front—“I wonder if there are
no dressmakers where they came from?” And then her lip curled in
indignation with herself to think that such petty details should
intrude upon her now. Another thing utterly dismayed her. She had
thought so much about this evening, she had prayed so earnestly, she
had almost expected to sail high above it, serene and safe, and do
honor to the religion which she professed by the quietness of her
surrender of home and happiness; for it truly seemed to her that she
was surrendering both. But it was apparent to herself that she had
failed, that she had dishonored her profession. And when this dreadful
evening was finally over, she shut the door on the outer world with a
groan, as she said, aloud and bitterly:

“Oh, I don’t know anything to prevent our home from being a place of
perfect torment! Poor father! and poor me!”

If she could have heard Judge Burnham’s comment, made aloud also, in
the privacy of his room, it might still have helped her.

“That girl has it in her power to make riot and ruin of this
ill-assorted household, or to bring peace out of it all. I wonder which
she will do?”

And yet, both Judge Burnham and Ruth Erskine were mistaken.



CHAPTER II.

SIDE ISSUES.


HOW did they ever get into such a dreadful snarl as this, anyway?

It was Eurie Mitchel who asked this question. She had seated her
guests—Flossy Shipley and Marion Wilbur—in the two chairs her small
sleeping-room contained, and then curled herself, boarding-school
fashion, on the foot of her bed. To be sure it is against the rule,
at this present time, for girls in boarding-schools to make sofas of
their beds. So I have no doubt it was, when Eurie was a school-girl;
nevertheless, she did it.

“Where should I sit?” she asked her mother, one day, when that good
lady remonstrated. “On the floor?”

And her mother, looking around the room, and noting the scarcity of
chairs, and remembering that there were none to spare from any other
portion of the scantily-furnished house, said, “Sure enough!” and
laughed off the manifest poverty revealed in the answer, instead of
sighing over it. And Eurie went on, making a comfortable seat of her
bed, whenever occasion required.

On this particular evening they had been discussing affairs at the
Erskine mansion, and Eurie had broken in with her exclamation, and
waited for Marion to answer.

“Why,” said Marion, “I know very little about it. There are all sorts
of stories in town, just as is always the case; but you needn’t believe
any of them; there is not enough truth sprinkled in to save them. Ruth
says her father married at a time when he was weak, both in body and
mind—just getting up from a long and very serious illness, during which
this woman had nursed him with patience and skill, and, the doctors
said, saved his life. He discovered, in some way—I don’t know whether
she told him so or not, but somehow he made the discovery—that she lost
possession of her heart during the process, and that he had gotten it,
without any such intention on his part, and, in a fit of gratitude, he
married her in haste, and repented at leisure.”

“How perfectly absurd!” said Eurie, in indignation. “The idea that he
had no way of showing his gratitude but by standing up with her, and
assenting to half a dozen solemn statements, none of which were true,
and making promises that he couldn’t keep! I have no patience with that
sort of thing.”

“Well, but,” said Flossy, coming in with gentle tone and alleviating
words, just as she always did come into the talk of these two.
“The woman was a poor, friendless girl then, living a dreadful
boarding-house life, entirely dependent on her needle for her daily
bread. Think how sorry he must have been for her!”

Eurie’s lip curled.

“He might have been as sorry for me as he pleased, and I dare say I
shouldn’t have cared if he had expressed his sorrow in dollars and
cents; but to go and marry me, promise to love and cherish, and all
that sort of thing, and not to mean a word of it, was simply awful.”

“Have you been studying the marriage service lately?” Marion asked,
with a light laugh and a vivid blush. “You seem strangely familiar with
it.”

“Why, I have heard it several times in my life,” Eurie answered,
quickly, her cheeks answering the other’s blushes. “And I must say it
seems to me a ceremony not to be trifled with.”

“Oh, I think so too!” Flossy said, in great seriousness and sweet
earnestness. “But what I mean is, Judge Erskine, of course, did not
realize what he was promising. It was only a little after Ruth’s mother
died, you know, and he—well, I think he could not have known what he
was about.”

“I should think not!” said Eurie. “And then to deliberately desert
her afterward! living a lie all these years! I must say I think Judge
Erskine has behaved as badly as a man could.”

“No,” said Marion; “he has repented. He might have gone on with his
lie to the end of life, and she would have made no sign, it seems.
The _woman_ can keep a promise, whether he can or not. But think what
it must have cost him to have told all this to Ruth! Why, I would
rather tell my faults to the President than to Ruth Erskine! Oh, I
think he has shown that there is nobility in his nature, and sincerity
in his recent profession. It would have been so easy to have consoled
his conscience with the plea that it was too late to make amends.
Still, I confess I think as you do, Eurie. Marriage is a very solemn
covenant—not to be entered into lightly, I should think; and, when its
vows are taken, they are to be lived by. I don’t feel very gracious
toward Judge Erskine.”

“Still, if the Lord Jesus and his own daughter can forgive him, I think
we ought to be able to do so.”

It was Flossy’s voice again—low and quiet, but with that curious
suggestion of power behind it that Flossy’s voice had taken of late. It
served to quiet the two girls for a minute, then Marion said:

“Flossy Shipley, I’m not sure but you have our share of _brains_, as
well as heart. To be sure, in one sense it is none of our business. I
don’t believe he cares much whether we ever forgive him or not. But I
believe I shall, and feel sorry for him, too. What a precious muddle he
has made of life! How are they ever going to endure that woman?”

“Is she so very dreadful?”

This was Eurie’s insinuating question.

“Father and Nellis called, but I could not bring myself to go with
them. I was sure I shouldn’t know what to say to Ruth. I tried to have
them describe her, but father said she must be seen to be appreciated,
and Nell would do nothing but shrug his shoulders and whistle.”

“She is simply terrible!” Marion said, with emphasis. “I didn’t stay
fifteen minutes, and I heard more bad grammar and bad taste in the use
of language than I hear in school in a week. And her style of dressing
is—well,” said Marion, pausing to consider a strong way of putting
it—“is enough, I should think, to drive Ruth Erskine wild. You know I
am not remarkable for nervousness in that direction, and not supposed
to be posted as to styles; but really, it would try my sense of the
fitness of things considerably to have to tolerate such combinations
as she gets up. Then she is fussy and garrulous and ignorant, and, in
every way, disagreeable. I really don’t know how I am ever to—”

And at that point Marion Wilbur suddenly stopped.

“What about the daughter?” Eurie asked.

“Well,” said Marion, “I hardly know; she impresses you strangely. She
is homely; that is, at first sight you would consider her very homely
indeed; red hair—though why that shouldn’t be as much the orthodox
color as brown, is a matter of fashion I presume—but she is large
featured, and angular, and has the air and bearing that would be called
exceedingly plain; for all that, there is something very interesting
about her; I studied her for half an hour, and couldn’t decide what it
was. It isn’t her smile, for she was extremely grave, hardly smiled at
all. And I’m not sure that it is her conversation—I dare say that might
be called commonplace—but I came away having a feeling of respect for
her, a sort of liking that I couldn’t define, and couldn’t get away
from.”

“Nellis liked her,” said Eurie. “He was quite decided in his opinion;
said she was worth a dozen frippery girls with banged hair, and trains,
and all that sort of thing, but he couldn’t give a definite reason, any
more than you can, why he ‘approved of’ her, as he called it.”

“I don’t know what her tastes can be,” continued Marion. “She doesn’t
play at all, she told me, and she doesn’t sing, nor daub in paints;
that is one comfort for Ruth; she won’t have to endure the piano, nor
help hang mussy-looking pictures in ‘true lights’—whatever lights they
may be. But I should imagine she read some things that were worth
reading. She didn’t parade her knowledge, however, if she has any. In
short, she is a mystery, rather; I should like you to see her.”

“Perhaps she is fond of fancy-work,” suggested Flossy, somewhat
timidly; whereupon Marion laughed.

“I don’t fancy you are to find a kindred spirit in that direction, my
dear little Kittie!” she said, lightly. “No one to glance at Susan
Erskine would think of fancy-work, for the whole evening. There is
nothing in her face or manner, or about her attire, that would suggest
the possibility of her knowing anything about fancy matters of any
sort. I tell you her face is a strange one. I found myself quoting to
my ‘inner consciousness’ the sentence: ‘Life is real, life is earnest,’
every time I looked at the lines about her mouth. Whatever else she
can or can not do, I am morally certain that she can’t crochet. Girls,
think of that name—Susan Erskine! Doesn’t it sound strangely? How do
you suppose it sounds to Ruth? I tell you this whole thing is dreadful!
I can’t feel reconciled to it. Do you suppose she will have to call
that woman mother?”

“What does she call her now?”

“Well, principally she doesn’t call her at all. She says ‘you’ at
rare intervals when she has to speak to her, and she said ‘she,’
when she spoke of her to me; not speaking disagreeably you know, but
hesitatingly, as if she did not know what to say, or what would be
expected of her. Oh, Ruth does well; infinitely better than I should,
in her circumstances, I feel sure. I said as much to that disagreeable
Judge Burnham who keeps staying there, for no earthly reason, that
I can see, except to complicate Ruth’s trials. ‘How does your friend
bear up under it?’ he asked me, with an insinuating air, as though
he expected me to reveal volumes. ‘She bears it royally, just as she
always does everything,’ I said, and I was dreadfully tempted to add:
‘Don’t you see how patiently she endures your presence here?’ Just as
though I would tell him anything about it, if she tore around like a
lunatic!”

“Oh, well, now,” said Eurie, oracularly, “there are worse crosses in
life, I dare say, than Ruth’s having to call that woman mother.”

“Of course there are; nobody doubts it; the difficulty is that
particular type of cross has just now come to her, and while she
doesn’t have to bear those others which are worse, she _does_ have to
bear that; and it is a cross, and she needs grace to help her—just
exactly as much grace as though there wasn’t anyone on earth called on
to bear a harder trial. I never could understand why my burnt finger
should pain me any the less because somebody else had burned her entire
arm.”

At this point Flossy interrupted the conversation with one of those
innocent, earnest questions which she was always in these days asking,
to the no small confusion of some classes of people.

“Are these two women Christians?”

“That I don’t know,” Marion answered, after staring at the questioner
a moment in a half dazed way. “I wondered it, too, I remember. Flossy
Shipley, I thought of you while I sat there, and I said to myself, ‘She
would be certain to make the discovery in less time than I have spent
talking with them.’ But I don’t know how you do those things. What way
was there for me to tell? I couldn’t sit down beside them and say, ‘Are
you a Christian?’ could I? How is it to be done?”

Flossy looked bewildered.

“Why,” she said, hesitatingly, “I don’t know. I never thought there was
anything strange about it. Why shouldn’t those things be talked of as
well as any others? You discovered whether the young lady was fond of
music and painting. I can’t see why it wouldn’t have been just as easy
to have found out about her interests in more important matters.”

“But how would you have done it? Just suppose yourself to have been in
Judge Erskine’s parlor, surrounded by all those people who were there
last evening, how would you have introduced the subject which is of the
most importance?”

“Why,” said Flossy, looking puzzled, “how do I know? How can I tell
unless I had been there and talked it over? You might as well ask me
how I should have introduced the question whether—well, for instance,
whether they knew Mr. Roberts, supposing they had come from the same
city, and I had reason to think it possible—perhaps probable—that
they were his friends. It seems to me I should have referred to it
very naturally, and that I should have been apt to do it early in our
conversation. Now, you know it is quite possible—if not probable—that
they are intimate friends of the Lord Jesus. Why couldn’t I have asked
them about him?”

Marion and Eurie looked at each other in a sort of puzzled amusement,
then Marion said:

“Still I am not sure that you have answered my question about how to
begin on such a subject. You know you could have said, ‘Did you meet
Mr. Roberts in Boston?’ supposing them to have been in Boston. But you
could hardly say, ‘Did you meet the Lord Jesus there?’ I am not sure
but that sounds irreverent to you. I don’t mean it to be; I really want
to understand how those subjects present themselves to your mind.”

“I don’t believe I can tell you,” Flossy said, simply. “They have no
special way of presenting themselves. It is all so new to me that I
suppose I haven’t gotten used to it yet. I am always thinking about it,
and wondering whether any new people can tell me anything new. Now I am
interested in what you told me about that Susan, and I feel as though I
should like to ask her whether there were any very earnest Christians
where she used to live and whether they had any new ways of reading the
Bible, and whether the young ladies had a prayer-meeting, and all those
things, you know.”

Again Marion and Eurie exchanged glances. This didn’t sound abrupt,
or out of place, or in any sense offensive to ideas of propriety. Yet
who talked in that way among their acquaintances? And _how had_ Flossy
gotten ahead of them in all these things? It was a standing subject of
wonderment among those girls how Flossy had outstripped them.

They were silent for a few minutes. Then Eurie suddenly changed the
current of thought: “How strange that these changes should have come
to Ruth and we know nothing about it until a mother and sister were
actually domiciled! We are all so intimate, too. It seems that there
are matters about which we have not learned to talk together.”

“Ruth was always more reserved than the rest of us,” Flossy said. “I
am not so surprised at not knowing about _her_ affairs; we are more
communicative, I think. At least I have told you all about the changes
that are to come to me, and I think you would tell me if you had
anything startling, wouldn’t you?”

Marion rose up and went over to Flossy, and, bending, kissed her fair
cheek.

“You little pink blossom,” she said, with feeling, “I’ll tell you all
the nice things I can think of, one of these days. In the meantime I
must go home; and remember, Eurie, you are not to do anything dreadful
of any sort without telling Flossy and me beforehand.”

“I won’t,” said Eurie, with a conscious laugh, and the trio separated.

Two hours later Marion Wilbur was the recipient of the following note:

    “DEAR MARION:—

    “I promised to tell you—though I don’t intimate that
    this comes under your prescribed limit of things
    ‘awful.’ Still, I want to tell you. I am almost sorry
    that I have not been like little Flossy, and talked it
    all over freely with you. Someway I couldn’t seem to.
    The truth is, I am to be married, in six week’s time,
    to Mr. Harrison. Think of my being a minister’s wife!
    But he is going away from here and perhaps I can learn.
    There! the ice is broken; now I can tell you about it.
    Come as soon as you can, and, as Flossy says, ‘Have a
    quiet little confidence.’ Lovingly,

                                              “EURIE.”

It was about this very hour that Eurie opened and looked at, in a maze
of astonishment and bewilderment, a dainty envelope, of special size
and design, from which there fell Marion Wilbur’s wedding-cards!



CHAPTER III.

A CROSS OF LEAD.


I DO not know that I need even try to tell you about the succession
of petty trials and embarrassments that haunted Ruth Erskine’s way
during the next few days. They belonged to that class of trials hard to
endure—so hard, indeed, that at times the spirit shrinks away in mortal
terror, and feels that it can bear no more; and yet in the telling to
a listener they dwindle in importance. As for Ruth, she did not _tell_
them—she lived them.

Everything was so new; nothing in or about the house could go on
according to the old fashion; and yet there was no new fashion shaped.
She saw many a thing which she must not do, and but few things that
seemed to bear doing. She must stop in the act of ordering dinner, and
remember in confusion that it was not her business to order dinners
in this house any more. And yet she must remember that the nominal
mistress seemed to know no more about ordering dinners for a family of
eight than she knew about ten thousand other things that were waiting
for her attention. Poor Ruth struggled and groaned and wondered,
and rarely cried, but grew paler, if possible, than before, and her
forehead was continually drawn, either with lines of pain or of intense
self-suppression. She congratulated herself that her father escaped
some of the misery. He went early to his office, shutting the door
on the incongruous elements in his household with a sense of relief,
and going out into the business world, where everything and everybody
were as usual, and returning late, giving as little time to the home
puzzle as possible. Yet it wore on him. Ruth could see that, and it but
increased her burden to feel that the struggle she made to help was so
manifest a _struggle_, and was, in some sense, a failure.

He detained her one morning in the library, with that special word of
detention which as yet he had never applied to any one but her.

“My daughter, let me see you a moment before I go out. Do you think we
ought to try to have some friends come in, in a social way?”

At this question Ruth stood aghast. Her father’s friends had hitherto
not been hard for her to entertain—lawyers, judges, professional men
of different degrees of prominence, often without their wives, and
when the ladies were included they were of an age, as a rule, to
expect little in the way of entertainment from Ruth, except a gracious
attention to their comfort; so that, beyond very careful directions
issued to very competent servants, and a general outlook on the
perfected arrangements, little had been expected of her. But now it was
different; other than professional people would expect invitations;
and besides, the hostess was no hostess at all—would not know what to
do—and, what was infinitely more painful, what _not_ to do.

No wonder that Ruth was appalled over this new duty looming before her.
Yet of course it was a _duty_; she flushed over the thought that her
father had been obliged to suggest it. Of course people were expecting
introductions; of course they would call—hosts of them. How much better
it would be to have a gathering of a few friends before the great world
pounced in upon them, so they might feel that at least with a few the
ordeal of introduction was over.

“I don’t mean a large party,” her father hastened to explain. “Just
a few friends—not professional ones, you know, but some of your new
acquaintances in the church, perhaps. I thought you might like to have
a gathering somewhat like that which you told me of at our little
friend, Flossy Shipley’s.”

If he had not been looking down at the grate, just then, instead of
into his daughter’s face, he would have seen her start, and almost
catch her breath over this suggestion. It was not that she was jealous
of little Flossy, for whom her father had shown very special and tender
regard ever since the prayer-meeting which he attended in her company,
but it came to her with a sudden sense of the change that had fallen
upon them. To think that they—the _Erskines_—should be making an
attempt to have a social gathering like unto one that Flossy Shipley
had planned!

“We couldn’t do the things that she did,” Ruth said, quickly.
“The elements which we would have to bring together would be too
incongruous.”

“No,” he answered, “not exactly like hers, of course, but something
simple and informal. I thought your three friends would come, and
Dr. Dennis, you know, and people of that stamp, who understand and
will help us. Wouldn’t it be well to try to do something of the kind,
daughter, or doesn’t the idea meet with your approval?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, drawing in her breath. “Yes, father, we must do
something. I will try. But I hardly know how to commence. You know I am
not mistress of the house now; it makes it difficult for me.”

“I know,” he said, and the expression of his face led his daughter
instantly to regret that she had made such a remark. It was the life
she lived at this time—saying words, and regretting that she had done
so. They went on, however, perfecting the arrangements for the social
gathering. There had occurred to Ruth an instant trouble in the way,
which was that ever-present one in the American woman’s life—_clothes_.

“We can not hasten this thing,” she said. “There will need to be some
shopping done, and some dress-making—that is, I should think there
would need to be.”

She corrected herself, and the embarrassment involved in the fact that
she was not the mistress of the new comers presented itself. Suppose
they chose to think they had clothes enough, and proposed to appear in
any of the ill-made, badly-selected materials which seemed to compose
their wardrobe! If they were only two children, that she might shut up,
in a back room up-stairs, and turn the key on outsiders until such time
as they could be made presentable, what a relief it would be!

Evidently her father appreciated that embarrassment.

“I tried to arrange that matter before I came home,” he said. “I
furnished money and suggested as well as I could; but it didn’t work. I
hardly know what was the trouble. They didn’t understand, or something.
Ruth, what can you do about it? Is there any way of managing?”

Ruth tried to consider, while her cheeks flushed, and her heart beat
hard, in what way she could suggest to her father to manage his wife
and daughter.

“_Susan_ would listen to suggestions, I think,” she said, slowly. “But
I don’t know whether”—

And then she broke off, and recurred to another of the endless trials
of this time. If she and her father were to be compelled to hold
conversations concerning this woman, it was absolutely necessary that
they come to an understanding as to what to call her.

“Father,” she said, plunging desperately into the depths of the
question. “What am I to call her? Does she—or, do _you_—desire that I
should say mother?”

“No,” he said, quickly. “Surely not, unless”—

“Well, then,” Ruth said, after waiting in vain for him to conclude. “Am
I to say ‘Mrs. Erskine?’”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

He spoke in visible agitation, and commenced a nerve-distracting walk
up and down the room.

“I don’t know anything about any of this miserable business. Sometimes
I am very sorely tempted to wish that I had left everything as it was,
and gone on in my old life, and endured the results.”

“Don’t,” said Ruth, aghast at this evidence of desperate feeling, and
roused, for a moment, from minor considerations into a higher plane.
“Don’t feel in this way, father; we will do the best we can, and it
will all come out right; at least, we will try to do what is right.”

He came over to her then, standing before her, looking into her eyes,
and there was that half-appealing look in his which had touched her
before.

“Ruth, if we could—if there was any way that we could—manage to _like_
them a little, it would make the whole thing so much better, both for
them and us.”

What an amazing thing to say! what an almost ludicrous thing, when one
reflected that he was talking about his _wife_! Yet none knew better
than did Ruth that _names_ implying love did not make love! How pitiful
this appealing sentence was! How could her father ever hope to learn
to like this woman, who was his wife? For herself, she had not even
thought of such a thing as trying. The most she had planned for was
to endure, to tolerate—certainly not to like, most certainly never to
_love_! She stood dumbly before her father, having no word of help for
him. And presently he turned from her with a sigh; and, when he spoke
again, it was in a business-like tone:

“Well, daughter, do the best you can. Manage everything exactly as you
have been in the habit of doing. About the dress question, talk with
Susan, if you can; tell her what will be proper—what you want done.
I will see that her mother follows her directions. For the rest, we
will manage some way; we shall have to depend on the kindness of our
friends. Judge Burnham will help us in any way he can. He understands
matters.”

This suggested to Ruth to inquire in regard to him.

“What is Judge Burnham staying in town for? Where _is_ he staying,
anyway?”

“Why, he lives in town. He is practicing here. Didn’t you know it? He
has been absent a long time on professional business. I hardly know
how it has happened that you have never met him until now. He has a
country-seat ten miles or so away from the city. He is there a good
deal, I presume; but he boards now at the Leighton House. He was about
changing boarding places when we came home. It was for that reason,
among others, that I invited him to stop with us for a few days. You
like him, don’t you, Ruth?”

This last with a sudden change of tone, and almost anxiety expressed in
his manner.

“Oh, yes,” said Ruth, half in impatience, as one to whom the subject
was too unimportant to stop over. And she was conscious of a flitting
determination that, whatever other person she might be called upon to
like, she would never trouble herself to make any effort of that sort
for _him_.

And then she went away to plan for a party in which she was to
be the real head, while appearing before the world only as the
dutiful daughter; to plan, also, for the new mother and sister’s
toilets—whether they would, or not, trusting to her father’s authority
to make them submissive to her schemes.

A little more talk about that matter of liking people, Ruth was
destined to hear; and it developed ideas that bewildered her. It
chanced that Flossy Shipley came in for a little chat with Ruth,
over the recent astounding news connected with their mutual friend,
Marion. It chanced, also, that the new-comers were both up stairs for
the evening, Mrs. Erskine being one of those persons who indulge in
frequent sick-headaches, during which time her daughter Susan was her
devoted slave. So Judge Erskine sat with his daughter, book in hand,
because conversation between them was now of necessity on such trying
subjects that they mutually avoided it; but he rarely turned a leaf;
and he greeted Flossy Shipley with a smile of pleasure, and asked,
almost pleadingly, if he might stay and listen to their gossip. Very
glad assent, Flossy gave, and emphasized it by talking to Ruth with as
much apparent freedom as though he were absent.

“I like it,” she said, speaking of Marion. “I think she will make such
a perfectly splendid minister’s wife.”

Flossy still dealt largely in superlatives, and paid very little
attention to the grammatical position of her adjectives. “I am almost
sorry that I am not going to live here, so I could have the benefit of
her; she will be just as full of helpful plans for people! And when she
gets in a position to influence them you will see how much good she can
do. Ruth, were you very much surprised?”

“Greatly so. I imagined that she did not even admire Dr. Dennis very
much. I don’t know that she ever gave me reason to think so, except by
being silent sometimes, when I expected her to speak; but of course
that is accounted for now. Isn’t the marriage sudden?”

“More sudden than they had planned,” Flossy said. “Dr. Dennis found it
necessary to be absent just then on a matter of business, and to go
West, just in the direction they had proposed to go together, and he
was obliged to be absent for some time, which would give him little
chance for vacation later in the season, and, in short,” said Flossy,
with a bright smile, “I think if they would own it, they were very
lonely, and very anxious to enjoy each other’s society, and thought
they were wasting time, and set about finding reasons why they should
change their plans. You know reasons can almost always be found for
things, when we are very anxious to find them!”

“Is that so!” Judge Erskine asked, looking up from his book, and
speaking in so earnest a tone that both girls turned toward him
inquiringly. “Do you mean to say that if one were anxious to
change—well, say his opinion of a person, he could bring himself to do
it on reasonable grounds?”

It was a curious question, and to Ruth it was a very embarrassing one.
Her cheeks flushed painfully, and her eyes drooped to the bit of fancy
work which lay idly in her lap.

“That wasn’t quite what I was thinking about,” Flossy said, gently and
seriously, as one who realized that his question reached deeper than he
meant her to understand. “But I do truly think, sir, that if we feel
as though we _ought_ to change our opinion of a person, we can set
seriously about doing it and accomplish it.”

“In that case, you would not believe it necessary to have any enemies
in this world, would you?”

“Not real enemies, I think, though I wouldn’t want to be friends, of
course, with everybody. But—well, Judge Erskine, I can’t explain to
you what I mean. I don’t know how to reason, you see. All I can do is
to tell you what really occurred. There is a person whom I disliked;
he was very trying to me, and I had to be thrown in his society very
often, and I knew I ought to feel differently toward him, because, you
know, I couldn’t hope to be of the least help to him, unless I felt
differently. So I set myself earnestly to trying, and I succeeded. I
have the kindest possible feelings toward him, and I think I am gaining
a little influence.”

During this recital Flossy’s fair, peach-blossom cheek had taken a
deeper shade, and her eyes drooped low. She was giving what Judge
Erskine felt was a bit of heart-history, and he did not know that she
realized any personal application. How should the innocent little mouse
know anything about his affairs?

“Do you mind telling me how you set to work to accomplish this change?”
he asked, and his daughter knew that his voice was almost husky.

“First,” said Flossy, simply and gravely, “I prayed for him; I gave all
my soul to a desire for his conversion; I prayed to be shown how to
help him—how to act toward him; then I prayed for grace to like him,
to be interested in him, and to overlook his faults, or his failings;
and then—why, I am not sure there is any ‘then’ to it. It is all told
in that word ‘prayer.’ The Lord Jesus helped me, Judge Erskine; that is
the whole of it.”

“Do you really think we have a right to pray about the matter of our
likes and dislikes?” There was no mistaking the earnestness in Judge
Erskine’s voice this time.

Flossy turned wondering eyes on him, as she said, “Oh, yes, indeed!
The direction is, ‘Casting all your care upon him,’ and that is a
real care, you know.” Ah! _didn’t_ Judge Erskine know? “And then He
says, ‘In _everything_ by prayer and supplication, let your requests
be made known.’ I couldn’t doubt my right. Indeed it seemed to me to
be a duty, not only to pray, but actually to supplicate, to coax, you
know, just as I was so tempted to do when a child. It seemed blessed to
me to think that the Lord Jesus took such minute notice of our human
nature that he knew it would help us to be allowed to keep a subject
constantly before him, and to keep coaxing about it. Don’t you think
that is wonderful, Judge Erskine?”

“Wonderful!” repeated Judge Erskine, in a moved tone, and he arose and
began that pacing up and down the room, which always with him indicated
deep feeling. Ruth and Flossy presently continued their talk in a lower
tone, until Judge Erskine came toward them again and said, “I will bid
you good-night, I think, and thank you, my dear young lady. Your words
are strong and helpful; don’t forget them in any future experience of
life that you may have; perhaps they will help you through deep waters,
some day.”

Then he went to the library. As for Ruth, she sought her room with two
thoughts following her: one, that Flossy had been to her father what
_she_ had failed in being—a helper; and the other, that possibly she
might pray herself into a different state of feeling toward this woman
and this girl, who were to her now only heavy, _heavy_ crosses.



CHAPTER IV.

BITTER HERBS.


THE morning of the night which had closed in gloom, opened to Ruth
Erskine with a faint promise of better things. Not so much that,
either; rather, she resolved on heroism. The sun shone, and the air
was fresh with the breath of coming spring. The outlook seemed more
hopeful. Ruth resolved upon trying Flossy’s way. She would pray about
this matter; she would nerve herself for duty and trial: she would
bear whatever of disagreeableness came athwart her plans. No matter
how obstinate or offensive this new woman proved herself to be on
the question of wardrobe, she would bravely face the ordeal, and do
what she could. No amount of offensiveness should cause her to lose
self-control. It was childish and useless to yield in this way, and
let inevitable trials crush one. She did not mean to do it. Her father
should see that she could be as strong over _real_ trials, as Flossy
Shipley could be over imaginary ones; for what had that little kitten
ever had to try her? This Ruth said, with a curl of her handsome upper
lip.

She went about her morning duties with something like the briskness
of her old life, and settled herself to Bible-reading, resolved on
finding something to help her. She had not yet learned the best ways
of reading in the Bible; indeed, she had not given that subject the
attention which Flossy had. To begin a chapter, and read directly and
seriously through it, getting what information she could, was the most
that she, as yet, knew about the matter. And the chapter occurring next
to the one that she read yesterday was the fifth of Romans: “Therefore
being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus
Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein
we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so,
but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh
patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” Thus on,
through the solemn and wonderful chapter, heeding the words indeed;
getting some sort of idea of St. Paul’s meaning, and yet not making his
experience personal, in the least; not realizing that the sentence,
“We have peace with God,” included Ruth Erskine; not seeing, at least,
that it was a present promise, referring to present experience; not
realizing anything, save a desire to be armed for unpleasant and
continuous duties, and a dim idea that reading the Bible was one of the
preparations which were given her to make. In much the same spirit, she
knelt to pray. She was humble, she was reverent, she was in earnest,
she prayed for strength, for wisdom, for patience; and the words were
strictly proper, and in accordance with the desires. The prayer, to a
listener, would have breathed the spirit of confidence and faith; yet
it must be confessed that Ruth Erskine arose from her knees without any
sense of having really communed with Christ, without any realization
of his presence, and without any very definite expectation of receiving
actual, practical benefit from the exercise. She did not realize the
feeling, and yet she possessed somewhat of the same spirit of the child
who prayed: “Dear Jesus, help me to be good to-day. I know I can be
good if I try, and I intend to try; but you can help me if you want
to!” Remember, I do not say that she realized it; but that does not
alter the fact that she went out from her room, to meet the trials of
the day, strong in the strength of her own resolves. She repaired at
once to Mrs. Judge Erskine’s room, determined to be very composed and
patient, and to combat whatever disagreeable or dissenting thing might
be said with forbearance and kindness.

Mrs. Erskine’s objection to new and fine clothing must be overcome,
but it should be done wisely. She resolved to say nothing to Susan
beforehand. She would not admit, even to herself, that her father’s
evident confidence in Susan’s powers was a trial to her; but, all the
same, she determined to show him that she, too, had powers, and that
she could manage matters without Susan’s help.

Alas for Ruth! Mrs. Erskine was not in the least averse to
fine feathers. She was not lofty, nor angry, nor hurt; she was
good-naturedly and ungrammatically and exasperatingly loquacious. It
would have been much easier for Ruth to endure ill-temper. She was
nerved for that. Unconsciously she had planned for and prayed for
self-control, to enable her to endure, not what she would meet in Mrs.
Erskine, but what she would have had to contend with in herself, had
she been in Mrs. Erskine’s place; and as, given the same circumstances,
the two would act in a totally different manner, failure was inevitable.

“Come in,” said Mrs. Erskine, heartily, in answer to Ruth’s low knock.
“Land alive! come right in, don’t stop to rap. What’s the use of being
so particular with one’s folks? I been a wishin’ you would run in and
have a chat. I was tellin’ your pa, only last night, how chirk and
nice we could all be here, if you would be sort of sociable, you know,
and not so stiff and proud-like. Not that you mean to be proud, I
s’pose; Susan says you don’t. She says it’s natural for some folks to
be haughty. I s’pose it is. But, land alive! I’m glad I’m not one of
them kind. Haughty folks always did shrivel me right up. Set down here
by the fire. I think these grates is real comfortable. I told your
pa, last night, that I wouldn’t have shivered over an old barn of a
wood-stove, all these years, if I’d known what comfortable things there
was in the world. How dreadful pale you look! Is it natural for you to
look so like a ghost all the time?”

“I am not accustomed to having a great deal of color in my face, I
believe,” Ruth answered, sitting squarely and stiffly in the most
uncomfortable chair she could find in the room, and feeling, just then,
that to be an actual ghost would be a positive relief.

“Well, now, I don’t believe it’s nature for any human being to be so
like a sheet as that. If I was your pa, I’d have you through a course
of medicine in less than no time. You need strengthenin’ up. You ought
to have some Peruvian bark, or some quassia chips, or some kind of
bitter stuff steeped up for you to drink. It would do you a power of
good, I know it would. You jest let me fix you up a mess, like I do
Susan, and see what it’ll do for you. S’prise your pa with the change
in you, I dare say.”

Poor Ruth! She felt as though stuff that was bitter enough had been
mixed and steeped, and held to her lips, and that she was being obliged
to drink it to the very dregs. _Did_ she need it? Was it possible that
the Divine Physician saw her need of such bitter herbs as these which
had fallen to her lot? She started, and even flushed a little over the
sudden thought. _She_ did not believe it. This was her _father’s_ sin,
not hers. It had only fallen upon her because of the old, solemn law:
“The iniquities of the fathers shall be visited upon the children.” She
hurried her thoughts away from it. It would not do to sit in that room,
with that woman staring at her, and indulge in questionings like these.

“I came in to see if I could be of any assistance to you in the way of
shopping. You will need something new, I suppose, before the gathering
of friends which my father proposes to have.”

Ruth had decided to take it as a matter of course that new garments
were to be bought, and thus forestall, if she could, haughty
objections. She need not have been thus careful. Mrs. Erskine had
stated truly that she was not one of the “haughty” sort. She had no
objection to any number of new dresses, and to their being made as
elaborately as possible.

“Now you speak of it, I dare say I do,” she said, leaning back
complacently in her comfortable little rocker. “In fact, your pa spoke
of that very thing this morning. He said like enough you would ’tend
to it, and he filled my pocket-book up handsome. There ain’t a stingy
streak about your pa. I knew that, years and years ago, when he was
a young man. It was the very first thing that drawed me to him—the
free kind of way in which he threw around his money. It seemed so
noble-like, specially when I was drivin’ every nerve to keep soul and
body together, and lived among folks that didn’t dare to say their
bodies was their own, for fear they would have ’em seized on for debt,
and took to jail. I tell you that was livin’! You don’t know nothing
about it, and I hope to the land that you never will.”

What could Ruth do but groan inwardly, and wish that her father had
been, in his youth, the veriest miser that ever walked the earth!
Anything, so that this terrible woman would not have been “drawed” to
him. She tried to hurry the question:

“What have you thought of getting?” she asked, nervously twisting
and untwisting the tassels of the tidy against which she leaned, and
feeling disagreeably conscious that a glow of color had mounted to her
very temples in her efforts at self-control.

“Land alive, I don’t know. I’ve thought of a dozen different dresses
since your pa told me this morning what he wanted. He wants things to
be awful nice, I can see that; and why shouldn’t he? A man that’s got
money and is free with it has a right to say what he will have, I’m
sure. I think it ought to be something bright, like something—well,
_bridie_, you know.”

This last with such a distressing little simper that it was almost more
than Ruth could do to keep from rushing from that awful room, and
declaring to her father that she would have no more to do with this
thing. He should fight his dreadful battles alone. But outwardly she
held still, and the shrill, uncultured little voice went on:

“You see I _am_ almost like a bride, meeting your pa’s friends so for
the first time, though land knows it is long enough ago that I planned
what to wear when I should meet ’em. It took longer to get ready than I
expected.”

There was not even a spice of bitterness in this sentence. If there had
been—if there had been a suggestion that this woman felt somewhat of
her own wrongs, Ruth thought that she could have borne it better. But
the tone was simply contemplative, as of one who was astonished, in a
mild way, over the tragedy that life had managed to get up for her.

“You see,” she continued, “I hadn’t a chance for much dressin’ or
thinkin’ about it; your pa was so weak that I had about all I could
do to fix bitters and things, and manage to keep the breath of life
in his body. And many’s the time when I thought he’d beat, and die
right before my face and eyes in spite of me. Then he went off on
that journey afore he was able, and I’ve always believed, and always
shall, that he didn’t rightly know what he was about after that, for
quite a spell. So now I think more than likely it would please him to
have things kind of gay and lively. I ain’t said anything about it
to Susan—she ha’n’t no special interest in dressing up, anyway, and
she and I don’t always agree about what looks nice, but I think your
pa would like it if I had a green silk—bright, rich green, you know,
nothing dull and fady. I saw one when I was a girl—fact is, I sewed on
it—and it was for a bride, too, and I said to myself then, says I, ‘If
_I’m_ ever a bride, I’ll have a dress as much like this as two peas.’
I’ve been a good while about it, but that’s neither here nor there.
I’ve got a beautiful red bow; that wide, rich-looking kind of ribbon;
a woman give it to me for tending up to her poor girl afore she died.
She had the consumption, and I took care of her off and on a good share
of the fall, and she give me this ribbon. It’s real nice, though land
knows I didn’t want pay for doing things for her poor girl. ’Twan’t
_pay_, neither, for the matter of that; it was just to show they felt
grateful, you know, and I’ve always set store by that ribbon. I’ve
never wore it, because Susan she thought it wan’t suited to our way of
livin’ and no more it wan’t, though we lived nice enough in a small
way. Your pa never skimped us on money, though, land alive! I didn’t
dream of his havin’ things about him like he has, and I was always for
tryin’ to lay up, ’cause I didn’t know how much money he had, and I
didn’t know but he’d come to poverty some day. Rich folks do, and I was
for savin’, and Susan didn’t object. Susan is a good girl as ever was.
And so the red bow is just as nice as ever it was—not a mite soiled nor
nothing, and I think it would go lovely with a green silk dress, don’t
you?”

“No,” said Ruth, severely and solemnly. Not another word could she have
forced her white lips to say, and I don’t know how to explain to you
what awful torture this talk was to her. The truth is, to those of you
who do not, because of a fine subtle, inner sympathy, understand it
already, it is utterly unexplainable.

“Land alive!” said Mrs. Erskine, startled by the brief, explosive
answer, and by the white, set lips, “don’t you? Now, I thought you
would. You dress so like a picture yourself, I thought you would know
all about it, and your pa said you knew what was what as well as the
next one.”

Think of Judge Erskine’s aristocratic lips delivering such a sentence
as that!

“Now, I had a geranium once, when I was a girl. It was the only pretty
thing I had in the world, and I set store by it, for more reasons
than one. It was give to me by my own aunt on my father’s side. It
was pretty nigh all she had to give, poor thing! They was dreadful
poor like the rest of us, and she give me this the very winter she
died. I had it up in my room, and it kept a blowing and blowing all
winter long—I never see the like of that thing to blow! And I used to
stand and look at it, just between daylight and dark. It stood right
by my one window, where the last streak of daylight come in, and I
used to squeeze in there between the table and the wall to make my
button-holes, and when it got so dark I jest couldn’t take another
stitch, I’d stand and look at the thing all in blow, and I thought I
never see anything so pretty in all my life, and I made up my mind then
and there, that a green silk dress, about the color of them leaves, and
a red ribbon about the color of them blossoms, would be the prettiest
thing to wear in the world. I got the bow a good many years ago, and I
was always kind of savin’ on it up, waiting for the dress.” Just here
there was the faintest little breath of a sigh. “But, then, if you
don’t think it would be the thing, why I’m willing to leave it to you.
Your pa said you’d see that everything was ship-shape.”

“I think,” said Ruth, and her voice was hollow, even to herself, “I
think that my father’s taste would be a plain, black silk, with white
lace at the throat. If you desire to please him, I am sure you will
make that choice.”

“Why!” exclaimed Mrs. Judge Erskine, and she couldn’t help looking a
bit dismayed. “Land alive! do you think so? Black! why it will make
folks think of a funeral, won’t it?”

“No,” said Ruth, “black is worn on all occasions by persons who know
enough to wear it.” Then she arose. She had reached the utmost limit
of endurance. Another sentence from this woman she felt would have
driven her wild. Yet she was doomed to hear one more before she closed
the door after herself.

“Well, now, if you honestly think it will be best, I s’pose I’ll agree
to it, as your pa seemed to think things must go your way. But I don’t
quite like it, jest because it seems kind of bad luck. I don’t believe
them notions about black clothes at merry-makings, you know, though
when I was a girl folks honestly thought so, and it seems kind of
pokerish to run right into ’em. I never would begin to clean house of a
Friday—some bad luck was sure to come; and as for seein’ the moon over
my left shoulder, I won’t do it, _now_—not if I can help it. But black
silk ain’t so funeral as bombazine and such, and I s’pose—”

Here Ruth slammed the door, and put both trembling hands to her ears,
and ran across the hall to the refuge of her own room, and closed, and
locked, and _bolted_ her door.

As for Mrs. Erskine, she relapsed of necessity into silence, and for
the space of five minutes ceased her rocking and looked meditatively
into the glowing grate. Then she arose, and for the second time that
morning her speech was heralded by the breath of a sigh, as she said
aloud, “I ain’t no ways certain that I can ever make head or tail to
that girl.” Then she went to her new and elegant dressing-bureau, and
opened a drawer, and drew from under a pile of snowy clothing a little
box, and took therefrom, wrapped in several folds of tissue paper, the
treasured bow. She had kept it choicely for fourteen years, always with
a dim sense of feeling that the time might come when life would so have
opened to her that she would be able to add to it the green silk dress,
and appear in triumph. Besides, it represented to her so much gratitude
and affection, and there was actually on her small, worn, withered
face, the suspicion of a tear, as she carefully folded and replaced it.
Her audible comment was: “A black silk dress and a white lace bow! land
alive!”



CHAPTER V.

SEEKING HELP.


FOR the rest of the day Ruth was in gloom; indeed, I might almost say
she was in despair. In a dim, dreary sort of way, she felt that her
refuge had failed her. If it really was not going to help her to read
in the Bible and pray, what _was_ she to do? Now, I do not mean that
she suddenly lost faith in the Bible, or in prayer, but simply that
despairing thoughts, like these, ran riot through her brain, and she
gave them attention; also, she felt as though any effort to help,
or any attempt to like these people—nay, even to tolerate them—was
impossible. Mrs. Erskine’s good-natured coarseness of tone and speech,
her horrible arrangement of words and phrases, her frequent allusions
to “your pa,” in the free, careless tone which indicated a partnership
of interest between them, were all so many horrors to the refined,
reserved, low-voiced daughter.

“I will just shut myself into my room,” she said, pacing back and forth
like a caged lion. “I will not try to associate with them; it can never
be done; they can not be improved; there is no hope in that direction:
there is nothing to build on. I must just take care of myself, and see
to it that I do not sink to their level.”

Carrying out this plan, or, rather, allowing herself to glide along
with it, she turned away with almost a shiver from her father’s
question, that evening, addressed to her in a low tone, as the family
were leaving the dining-room:

“Daughter, shall we try to go to prayer-meeting to-night?”

The first prayer-meeting since this invasion into their home! Ruth had
not forgotten it; instead, she had been looking forward all day to
that meeting, as a refuge for her storm-tossed soul. Without giving
really definite thought to it, she yet felt that there, at least,
would be help and comfort; and not once had it occurred to her that the
new-comers must be invited to attend. She realized, now, with a throb
of pain, that it was this sense of fleeing from their presence which
had helped to give pleasantness to the thought of the meeting. Was it
possible that “_they_” must be taken?

“Father, I can’t,” she said, turning and facing him with glowing face
and defiant eyes. “I have tried to-day to help, and have been an awful
failure. I just feel as though I could not endure it. No, I say, let us
stay at home with our misery, and not parade it before a gaping world.
No, I am not going to prayer-meeting to-night.”

Her father turned from her, and walked, without another word, to the
library, whither, according to the new rules of the house, they went
directly after tea, for prayer. Ruth could not help noticing that her
father’s tall, handsome form stooped, as though he were bowed with
suddenly-added years. The moment those words were spoken, she felt that
she would have given worlds to have unsaid them; but to take back what
has been said in haste and folly is oftentimes an impossible task.
She chose the darkest corner of the library, and felt that, if she
could have crouched in it, out of sight forever, it would have been
happiness. Her father’s voice, as he read the psalm for the evening,
was low and tremulous. He had by no means gotten used to these new
duties—had not felt their comfort, nor recognized in them a help. As
yet he was in the realm of hard _duty_. His prayer touched Ruth as
no prayer had ever done before. It opened the fountains of tears. On
rising from her knees, she turned quickly to the window, to hide her
disturbed face, and to determine whether she should follow her father
from the room, and apologizing for the hard, unhelpful words which she
had spoken, say that, of course, they must go to prayer-meeting. He did
not wait for her tardy resolution, but turned at once to his wife:

“Will you and Susan accompany me to our weekly meeting? I feel that we
need all the help we can get, and that is one of the sources of supply.”

Susan answered promptly, and with a glad ring in her voice that he
could not have failed to notice. She was so glad to hear that this was
the evening for the meeting. She had been thinking about it to-day, and
wondering whether it were, and whether she could go. As for the mother,
she said, hesitatingly:

“Why, yes,” she supposed so. There was nothing to hinder, that she knew
of. She was no great hand for going out evenings, though, to be sure,
going out in a city, where the walks were good and the streets as light
as day, was a different affair from blundering along in the dark, as
_she_ had been obliged to do. Susan always went to prayer-meeting; but
she hadn’t never went in her life, as she knew of; but then, of course,
if _he_ wanted to go, she would go along.

It was not possible, apparently, for Mrs. Erskine to answer a
question briefly. She was full of reminiscences. They went to
prayer-meeting—“father and mother and daughter.” Ruth said this
sentence over after they were all gone—said it as she listened to the
sound of their retreating footsteps—her father, and all the mother
she had ever known, and their daughter. She was left out! Her father
had not given her opportunity to change her mind. He had simply said,
as they passed out, “I am sorry, daughter, that you do not feel like
accompanying us.” If he had but said, “Daughter, won’t you go?” she
would have choked down the tears and answered, “Yes.” But she could not
bring her pride, or her grief, to make this concession. She honestly
did not know whether to call it pride or grief.

Bitterly sorry was she to miss the prayer-meeting. She began to feel
that, even with those two present, it might have helped her. So sorry
was she that, had she dared to traverse the streets alone, she would
have made ready and followed. While she still stood, looking out
drearily, too sad now even for tears, the bell sounded through the
quiet house, and, giving little heed to it, she was presently startled
by the advent of Judge Burnham.

“Thomas thought no one was in,” he said, coming toward her, after an
instant’s surprised pause, “and I ventured to avail myself of your
father’s cordial invitations, and come in to consult a book which he
has, and I haven’t.”

It was well for Judge Burnham’s peace of mind that he had not come in
expecting to see Ruth. She was in the mood to resent such an intrusion,
but since it was only books that he wanted, he was welcome. She
motioned toward the rows and rows of solemn-looking volumes, as she
said:

“Help yourself, Judge Burnham, and make yourself as comfortable as you
can. My father’s friends are always welcome to his library.”

Then Judge Burnham said a strange and unexpected word. Standing
there, looking at her with those keen, grave eyes of his, thinking,
apparently, not of books at all, he said:

“I wish I could help _you_.”

Something in the tone and something in the emphasis caused a vivid
blush to spread over Ruth’s face. She commenced a haughty sentence:

“Thank you; I am sure it is kind; but—” She was about to say, “but, I
do not feel in need of help.”

She was stopped by the swift realization that this was not true. She
felt, in one sense, in deeper need of help than she had ever done
before. Her voice faltered over the words, and finally she stopped, her
eyes drooping as they were not wont to droop before others, and those
traitorous tears shone in them again. The tearful mood was as foreign
to her usual self as possible, and she felt afraid to trust herself to
speak further. Besides, what could she say?

Judge Burnham spoke again, earnestly, respectfully:

“I hope you will forgive my intrusion of sympathy, but I do feel
for you—perhaps in a way that you can hardly appreciate. There are
circumstances in my own hard life that serve to make me in deep
sympathy with your present trial. Besides, your father has confided in
me fully, and I knew _your_ mother. When I was a boy of fourteen she
was a woman, young and beautiful and good. She helped me in a hundred
of those nameless ways in which a woman can help a motherless boy. If
there was any way in which I could serve her daughter it would give me
sincerest pleasure to do so.”

He was so frank and sincere and grave that Ruth could hardly help being
sincere also.

“I need help,” she said, raising her eyes for an instant to his, “but
I do not imagine that you, or any human being, can give it me. I shall
have to get a victory over my own heart before anything can help me.
I am ashamed of myself, and disheartened. Things that I mean to do I
utterly fail in, and things that above all others I don’t intend to do
I drop into, almost of necessity, it seems to me.”

What a pity that this man, who wanted to help, had not been familiar
with the old-time cry of the sin-sick soul, “For the good that I would
I do not, but the evil which I would not that I do.” But he was not
familiar with that book of the law of the human heart. Still he essayed
to comfort.

“I think you are too hard on yourself. I told you that your father had
made a confidant of me, and among other things he has repeatedly told
me what a help and strengthener you were to him. He said that he never
would have been able to carry this hard matter through but for your
strong, unselfish words. It was of you he thought most, and when you
were unselfish he felt that he could be.”

Ruth needed this crumb of comfort and yet it had its bitter side, and
brought another rush of tears.

“He will never speak such words again,” she said, and her voice
trembled. “I have failed him utterly. To-night he asked me to go to the
prayer-meeting, and I refused. I said I could never go out with them
anywhere, and that we ought to stay at home and hide our shame.”

And having broken through the wall of reserve to this degree poor Ruth
gave way utterly, and dropped into a chair, weeping bitterly. Presently
she said:

“I would give the world to be able to take it back again; but I can’t.
I should have gone to the meeting to-night—there was no excuse. I have
dishonored my Saviour as well as my father.”

Judge Burnham looked down at her in perplexed dismay. No definite
purpose had been in his mind, beyond a very strange sympathy for her,
and a desire to show it. But he did not in the least know how to deal
with tears, nor with trouble which reached to so deep and solemn a
place in the heart as this. He was one of those reverent, correct
moralists, professing to honor the Bible as a very wise and a very
good book, professing to respect religion and honor the name of God;
and knowing no more about any of these subjects than that profession
indicates when it goes no farther. How was he to comfort one whose
bitterest tears were being shed because she had dishonored the Lord? He
waited irresolute for a moment, then, as if a sudden and very brilliant
thought had struck him, his face brightened.

“If that prayer-meeting would really be a source of help to you, Miss
Erskine,” and he tried not to have his tone appear incredulous, though
at that very moment he was occupied in wondering what it could possibly
do for her, “why not reconsider your decision and attend it? I will see
you safely there with pleasure, and I presume your coming would gratify
your father in his present mood.”

For, to this man, the religion of his old friend Judge Erskine was
simply a “mood,” which he expected to be exchanged presently for some
other fancy.

Ruth looked up quickly. Was there possibly an escape from this torture
of self-reproach? Was there a chance to show her father that she was
bitterly ashamed of herself?

“Isn’t it too late?” she asked, and the eagerness in her voice was
apparent.

“Oh, no, I should think not,” and Judge Burnham drew his watch. “I am
not very well versed in the ways of these gatherings, but if it were a
lecture, or concert, it is not enough past the hour to cause remark. I
am quite willing to brave criticism in that respect, if you say so.”

Had Ruth been less engrossed with the affairs of her own troubled
heart she would have taken in the strangeness of this offer on Judge
Burnham’s part to accompany her to a prayer-meeting. Truth to tell he
could have echoed Mrs. Erskine’s statement, that “she hadn’t never went
in her life as she knew of.” He smiled now over the newness of his
position, and yet he cared very little about it. There _were_ matters
in which Judge Burnham had moral courage enough to face the whole
world. To appear in a social meeting with Judge Erskine’s daughter
was one of them. As for Ruth, true to her nature, she thought nothing
about it, but made ready with a speed and an eagerness that would have
amazed her attendant, could he have seen her.

So it came to pass that the First Church prayer-meeting again had a
sensation. The prayer-room was quite full. Since the revival there had
been none of those distressing meetings composed of a handful of the
most staid members of the church, but on this particular evening there
were more present than usual. There were some who were not in the habit
of being seen there, even of late. Shall I venture to tell the reason?
The simple truth is, that Dr. Dennis and Marion Wilbur’s wedding-cards
were out. As Eurie Mitchell has before told you, many things had
conspired to make their change of plans advisable, and so, instead
of being married in the front-room of the old western farm-house,
according to Marion’s fancy, the ceremony was to take place in the
First Church on the following evening, and every member of that church,
young and old, large and small, had received a special invitation to be
present.

Now, it is a mistake to suppose that general gossip is confined to
small villages and towns, where everybody knows everybody’s business
better than he knows it himself. I think the experience of others will
testify to the truth of the statement that gossip runs riot everywhere.
In the larger towns or cities, it runs in eddies, or circles. This
clique, or this set, or this grade of society, is, to a man and woman,
as deeply interested in what the particular circle are to _do_, or
_wear_, or _be_, next, as though they lived in a place measuring three
square miles. So, while there were those in this nameless city of
which we write, who said, when they heard of the coming ceremony: “Dr.
Dennis! Why he is pastor of the First Church, isn’t he? or is it the
Central Church? Who is Marion Wilbur? does anybody know?” And while
there were those who rushed to and fro through the streets of the city,
passing under the shadow of the great First Church, who did not know
that there was to be a wedding there, who could not tell you the name
of the pastor of the church, nor even whether it had a pastor or not,
and who had never heard of Marion Wilbur in their lives, and never
would, till those lives were ended, though some of them brushed past
her occasionally, there were undeniably those who hurried through
their duties this evening, or shook off their weariness, or _ennui_, or
deferred other engagements and made it convenient to go to the First
Church prayer-meeting, for no better reasons than a curious desire to
see whether Dr. Dennis would appear any different from usual on the
night before his marriage, and whether Marion would be out, and whether
she _could_ look as unconscious and unconcerned as she always had, and
also what she _would wear_! whether she would cling to that old brown
dress to the very last! and whether Grace Dennis would be present, and
whether she would sit with Marion as they remembered she had, several
times, or where? These, and a dozen other matters of equal importance
and interest, had actually contributed to the filling of the seats in
the First Church chapel! Well, there are worse absorptions than even
these. I am not certain that there was a disagreeable word or thought
connected with these queries, and yet how sad a thing to think that the
Lord of the vineyard is actually indebted to such trivialities for the
ingathering of the workers in his vineyard to consult with him as to
the work? Alas! alas! many of them were not workers at all, but drones.

After all, since a higher motive could not touch these people, shall we
not be glad that any motive, so long as it was not actually a _sinful_
one, brought them within the sound of prayer and praise? They were
there anyway, and the service was commenced, and the hymn that followed
the pastor’s prayer was being sung, when the opening door revealed to
the surprised gazers the forms of Ruth Erskine and Judge Burnham! Now
Judge Burnham was one who would, on no account, have exerted himself
to see how Dr. Dennis would appear, or how Marion Wilbur would dress,
since none of these motives moved him. The question was, What had?



CHAPTER VI.

FROM DIFFERENT STANDPOINTS.


ALTHOUGH the First Church prayer meeting had gone several steps onward,
gotten beyond the region of distressing pauses, wherein the embarrassed
people looked at each other and wished something would happen, it was
by no means the free, social, enjoyable gathering that a prayer-meeting
ought to be. A life-long education of too rigid propriety—in other
words, false propriety—is not to be overcome in an hour. Therefore,
after those who were more accustomed to occupying the time had filled
their space there came a lull, not long, not distressing. Those
Chautauqua girls were all present, and any one of them would have led
in a hymn rather than let the pause stretch out. But it was long enough
for people to wonder whether the hour was not almost gone, and whether
there were any others who would get their lips open that evening; and
then they heard a strange voice: clear, steady, well-managed, as one
accustomed to the sound of her own voice, even in public places, and it
belonged to the stranger sitting beside Judge Erskine—none other than
his daughter Susan. The words she uttered were these: “Therefore being
justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus
Christ.”

Now, if it is your fortune to be a regular attendant at a
prayer-meeting where a woman’s voice is never heard, you can appreciate
the fact that the mere recitation of a Bible verse, by a “sister” in
the church, was a startling, almost a bewildering innovation. Only a
few months before, I am not sure but some of the good people would have
been utterly overwhelmed by such a proceeding. But they had received
many shocks of late. The Spirit of God coming into their midst had
swept away many of their former ideas, and therefore they bore this
better.

But the voice went on, clear, steady, as well sustained as though
it belonged to a deacon in the church. “I have been all day,” it
said, “dwelling under the shadow of that verse, ‘Peace with God!’ It
expresses _so_ much! Peace is greater than joy, or comfort, or rest.
I think the words come to perplexed lives with such power. When we do
not see the way clearly; when we are beset with difficulties; when
disappointments thicken around us, we can still look up to God and
say, ‘Up there, where Father is, it is peace.’ He sees the way plainly
and He will lead us right through the thickets to the sunlight of
His eternal presence. I felt this verse specially one day. Something
occurred in which I had to bear a prominent part. For a time I was
perplexed—was not sure what was right—and, afterward, my friends
thought that I did not make the right decision, and I felt afraid that
perhaps I had not, and it troubled me. Then I rested my heart on this
word: ‘_justified_.’ Not because I have done right; not because my
judgment is correct; not because of any act of mine in any direction
save that one of trusting in my Lord, justified by _faith_! I am so
glad that however much we may disappoint and try our friends, and our
own hearts, in the sight of the great and wise and pure God, we are
justified through Jesus Christ.”

Simple words were these, simply and quietly spoken. The speaker
had spent all her life in one place and all her Christian life in
one church. In that church it had been her custom to give her word
of testimony. Sometimes it was a verse of a hymn that she recited,
sometimes it was a text of Scripture, sometimes it was a touch of her
own experience. She had grown up with the custom. She did not realize
that there were any who had not. It did not occur to her that to the
ears of the First Church people this might be a strange sound. So
there had been no flutter or embarrassment, no self-consciousness of
any sort; simply out of the fullness of her heart she had spoken. The
effect on those about her was obvious and various. Judge Erskine’s
hand, that rested on the knob of his gold-headed cane, trembled
visibly; Mrs. Senator Seymour, who sat behind him, looked indignant,
and felt that Judge Erskine had had enough to endure before this, but
this was really too much! Marion Wilbur, who was present, and who _did_
wear her old brown dress, “sticking to it to the very last,” sat erect,
with glowing cheeks and eyes that were bright with excitement. To fully
understand her excitement I shall have to tell you about a little
conversation she had just before starting for church.

“Marion,” Dr. Dennis had said, as he waited in the stuffy parlor
for her to draw on her gloves, “I wish you were a very brave young
woman, and liked innovations, and were willing to make a startling one
to-night.”

“Which you believe I am not, and will not, I conclude,” she had
replied, laughing; and stopping before him with a mock bow, added:

“Thank you; I believe you are correct about part of it, at least. I
certainly feel very meek and quiet to-night, whatever I may have been
in the past. What do you want done?”

“I want to get rid of a horrible stiffness that is creeping over our
meeting. We have been thawed, but not sufficiently; that is—well,
Marion, the prayer-meeting doesn’t and _never did_, meet my ideal. It
is not social enough—friendly and familiar enough. I would like to
have it a place where we meet together to talk over religious subjects,
in exactly the same way that we talk of other matters of interest. I
would like, for instance, to ask you as to your opinion of a passage of
Scripture, or a hymn; and I should like you to answer as freely as you
would if we were sitting with other friends in—say _your_ parlor, for
instance.”

The emphasis in this latter sentence brought a vivid blush to Marion’s
face, and a little exclamation, not exactly of dismay:

“I think _you_ are in a very startling mood. What would your good
pillars in the church say to such innovations, do you suppose? It takes
my breath away even to think of such a thing! I would almost as soon
arise in the desk, and undertake to preach a sermon.”

“Which is a very different thing,” Dr. Dennis said, stoutly. “But, now,
just look at it, Marion. Isn’t that the reasonable way to do? Imagine
a party of us meeting to discuss a prospective journey to Europe, or
to the Holy Land; and, supposing me to be the leader, imagine all the
ladies sitting perfectly mum, and the gentlemen only speaking when I
called them by name, as if, instead of a social meeting, where all the
people were on the same level, it was a catechetical class, met for
examination, with myself for examiner! I don’t believe we have the true
idea of prayer-meetings.”

“Perhaps not. But, if I should suddenly say to you, when we are fairly
seated in the chapel, ‘Dr. Dennis, what do you think is the meaning of
the sentence—Called to be _saints_?’ what would you think?”

“I should be delighted—positively delighted; and I should proceed to
answer you as well as I could; and should like to say, ‘Judge Erskine,
isn’t that your idea?’ or, ‘Mrs. Chester, what do you think about it?’
and thus from one to another, freely, familiarly as we would if we
were gathered to converse about anything else that was worthy of our
attention. That is my idea of a social prayer-meeting.”

“Well,” said Marion, “I don’t believe you will ever realize your
idea. For myself, I should just as soon think of attempting to fly.
The minute you get seated behind that great walnut box, with those
solemn-looking cushions towering before you, I feel as far removed
from you as though miles of space divided us.”

“That is just it,” Dr. Dennis said, growing eager. “I tell you, this
sense of distance and dignity, and unwise solemnity, are all wrong. The
barriers ought to be broken down. How I wish, Marion, that you felt
it in your heart to help me. I wish you would open your mouth in that
meeting to-night. It would do you and me, and everybody good. We should
have made a beginning toward getting nearer to the people. I don’t mean
anything formidable, you know. Suppose you should just recite a verse
of Scripture—something appropriate to the subject before us? I don’t
believe you have an idea of the effect it would have.”

“Oh, yes I have,” Marion said, with an emphatic nod of her head. “_I_
can realize that the effect would be tremendous. I don’t believe _you_
have the slightest idea of it! What effect will it have, if you and I
reach the meeting ten minutes past the time?”

Whereupon they went to church. Of course Marion was interested in Susan
Erskine’s verse, and Susan Erskine’s comments; not so interested
that she felt moved to join her, and contribute of her experience to
that meeting—such things need thinking about and praying over—but so
interested that her face flushed at the thought that this girl, who was
from the country, had more moral courage than she, and was in sympathy
with Dr. Dennis’ advanced ideas in regard to prayer-meetings.

As for Ruth Erskine, her head went down on the seat before her, and she
kept it bowed during the remainder of the service.

Judge Burnham’s nerves were in turmoil. He could not remember that
he had ever in his life before felt such sympathy for the trials of
others. This particular form of the trial seemed dreadful to him.
The idea that a girl of Ruth Erskine’s refinement, and a man of her
father’s position, should be brought thus rudely and offensively before
the public, jarred upon him, as he had not supposed that anything
outside of himself and his own trials could. He blamed himself for
being the unwitting cause of part of the trouble. If he had not
suggested to Ruth the possibility of coming to this obnoxious place,
she would have been spared this embarrassment. Filling his mind with
these thoughts—to the exclusion of anything else that was said—and
trying to determine how he should best express his sympathy to this
tried girl by his side, he was presently relieved to discover that the
people were rising for the benediction, and this—to him—long drawn out
trial was over. He had not, however, sufficiently composed his thoughts
to venture on any form of address, when Ruth suddenly broke the silence
in which they were walking:

“Judge Burnham, I owe you thanks. Your suggestion about the
prayer-meeting to-night, and your kind attendance upon me, have helped.
That meeting came to my heart like balm. I cannot venture to attempt
telling you what it has done for me. Perhaps it would be difficult
to make you understand how heavy my heart was; but one sentence
spoken there has been repeated to me as a revelation! I am so glad
to feel that, for _me_, there can be peace with God! I have felt so
storm-tossed, so bewildered, so anxious to do right, and so sure that I
was doing wrong, it has been, at times, difficult for me to determine
right _from_ wrong, and, in some things, I have felt so condemned that
I was miserable. Now I know what I need—God’s peace—such as only he can
give—such as is not interfered with by any outward circumstances. To
be justified _before him_ is surely enough. I need not ask for further
justification.”

Now, indeed, was Judge Burnham silent from very amazement. Here was
this girl, to whom he thought had come an added and excessively
embarrassing trial, thanking him for bringing her into it, and actually
calling it a help and a joy! He had not the least conception of what
she could mean. A strong desire to make her explain herself, if she
could, prompted his words:

“Then you were not disturbed with your—with the lady’s prominence this
evening?”

“With my sister’s, Judge Burnham. You were right in the first place.”

Whether Ruth was willing to accept the situation for herself or not,
she could dignifiedly insist upon others doing it. Whoever her father
introduced as his daughter should be received by _outsiders_ as _her_
sister, whether _she_ so received her or not.

“I beg pardon,” said Judge Burnham. “You were not disturbed, then, by
the position which your sister took?”

“I didn’t think anything about _position_. She recited that Bible verse
most exquisitely, I thought, and the words which she spoke afterward
were strong and helpful; they helped me, and I am glad in my very soul
that I heard them. That is the most that I can tell you about it.”

Silence seemed to be the wisest course for Judge Burnham. He was thrown
out of his bearings. Since she did not need comfort, and refused to
receive, why should he attempt to give it? But he didn’t in the least
understand her. He wondered curiously whether his sympathy had been
equally thrown away on his friend, Judge Erskine, or whether he, with
his refined and sensitive tastes, had really received a blow from
which it would be hard to rally. The more he thought about it the more
probable this seemed. As he thought he waxed indignant.

“If I were he I would forbid her appearance in public, until she learns
what is due to her position. It isn’t likely that he can rise to the
fanatical heights where his daughter has managed to climb. Probably she
will have made a descent by to-morrow morning. I mean to go in and see
the Judge.”

Acting upon this mental conclusion, he ascended the Erskine steps, and
followed Ruth without waiting for a formal invitation. Her father had
just entered, and was still in the hall. He turned toward his friend.

“Come in, Burnham. I was very glad to see you where I did to-night.
I hope it will not be the last time. I am sure you must have enjoyed
the meeting. Come to the library and let us talk it over.” And Judge
Erskine threw open the library door, while the others of his family
turned toward the parlor.

“Well,” he said, as the door closed after them, “what did you think of
the meeting?”

“I confess to being considerably surprised,” Judge Burnham answered.
Truth to tell, he hadn’t the least idea what it would be wise to say.

“Weren’t you!” said Judge Erskine, with energy. “I never was more so. I
didn’t know she was of that stamp; and yet I might have known it. She
has given me several glimpses of her spirit during the little time in
which I have known anything about her.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Do? How? I am not sure that I understand the question.”

“Why, I mean as to the position which she assumed to-night.”

“Oh, as to that, there is nothing to do. I dare say I may express the
gratitude which I feel for the help that she gave me, but I don’t even
know whether I can bring myself to do _that_. I can’t get over the
sense of strangeness and embarrassment. But weren’t those grand words
that she quoted to-night? I declare such a truth as that ought to take
us through anything! It lifts me out of myself for the time-being and I
feel as though I could live my life patiently and earnestly. I’ll tell
you, Judge, what I thought as I sat in that seat to-night and looked
over at you. I wished with all my soul that you might be induced to
look into this matter for yourself, and see the reasonableness of it
all. Did you ever give it special attention, my friend? In fact, I
know you didn’t, because a man of your discernment could have come to
but one conclusion, had you thought closely about it.”

“That is a compliment to my discernment, and I appreciate it,” Judge
Burnham said, with a faint attempt at a smile. “I am not sure that I
ever gave the subject what you call ‘special attention.’ And yet I
think I have a reasonable degree of respect for religion and the Bible.
You have often heard me express my opinion of the literary merits of
that book, I think.”

“Oh, yes,” said Judge Erskine, with a little sigh. “‘Literary merits!’
Yes, I know you respect the Bible and admire it, and all that sort of
thing; but that is very different from living by it. I respected it
myself for forty years. The thing is to stand ‘justified’ in God’s
sight. Think of that! People like you and me, who have made mistakes
all our lives—mistakes that seem past all rectifying—and yet, in God’s
sight, they are as if they had not been, through the atoning blood!
Isn’t that a glorious thought?”

“Mistakes are not _sins_, Judge,” his friend added, and he spoke the
words somewhat haughtily. In his heart he added: “They are a couple
of fanatics, he and his daughter. I don’t understand either of them.”
In truth, he was staggered. It might do to attribute fanaticism, or
undue exaltation of mood, to Miss Erskine, possibly; but he had known
the cool-headed Judge long and well. Was it likely that anything which
would not bear close and logical looking into could get possession of
him to a degree that it had—even to a degree that was transforming his
life?



CHAPTER VII.

ONE DROP OF OIL


NOW you know that some of you are anxious to hear all about that
marriage which took place in the First Church, the next evening. You
want to be told how the bride was dressed, and whether she had any
bridesmaids, and whether Dr. Dennis appeared well, and how Grace Dennis
was dressed, and how she acted, and who performed the ceremony, and
whether it was a lengthy one, and every little detail of the whole
matter; also, you are desirous of knowing how the “little gathering”
that the Erskines gave, soon after, was managed—whether Mrs. Erskine
became reconciled to the “black silk” and the “lace bow;” whether
Susan proved to be yielding, or obstinate, and how Ruth bore up under
the numerous petty embarrassments, which you plainly foresee the
evening had in store for her. But, then, there are those discerning and
sympathetic beings—the critics—standing all ready to pronounce on us,
and say, that we are “prolix” and “commonplace” and “tedious;” that
we spend too much time in telling about trivialities, and do not give
the startling points fast enough, as if that were not exactly what we
and they are doing all the time! Who lives exclamation points every
day? There comes occasionally one into most lives (and assuredly Ruth
Erskine believed that hers had come to her); but, for the most part,
lives are made up of commas and interrogations and dashes. There is
this comfort about professional critics—those that live behind the
scenes know that when they are particularly hard on a book, one of two
things is the case—either they have been touched in a sensitive spot
by some of the characters delineated or opinions expressed, or else
they have an attack of indigestion, and the first subject that comes
under their dissecting-knives must bear the savage consequences.
Very well, let us give them a touch of “trivialities.” The bride’s
dress was a soft sheeny grey, just the sort of dress for enduring a
long, westward-bound journey, and yet rich enough, and soft enough,
and delicate enough to look appropriate in the church. As for Dr.
Dennis. There is this satisfaction about a man’s dress, it is easy of
description. When you have said it was black, and neat-fitting, what is
there left to say? Some gentlemen look exceedingly well dressed, and
some look ungainly; and every one of them may have on black clothes,
that look to the uninitiated as though they were well-fitted. What
makes the difference? What lady can tell?

The bright-eyed, fair-faced daughter of the house of Dennis was
really the beauty of that evening; and, if the truth were known, the
bride-elect had expended more thought and care upon the details of
this young girl’s attire than she had on her own. Eurie Mitchell and
Mr. Harrison were bridesmaid and groomsman. There were those in the
church who wondered at that, and thought that Mr. Harrison would have
liked some one better than “that Mitchell girl” with him, under the
circumstances. But Eurie herself, and you and I, know better. We know
he has chosen her, from all others, to stand by him forever.

After all, I can tell you nothing but the commonplaces. Is there ever
anything else told about weddings? Who is able to put on paper the
heart-throbs and the solemnities of such an hour? It is like all other
things in life—that which is told is the least important of all the
story.

Old Dr. Armington, whose hair was white with the snows of more than
seventy winters, spoke the solemn words that made them man and wife....
For half a century he had been, from time to time, repeating that
solemn sentence.

“You are the two hundred and ninety-seventh couple that I have, in the
name of my Master, joined for life. God bless you.”

This was his low-spoken word to Dr. and Mrs. Dennis, as he took their
hands in after greeting. Someway, it made Marion feel more solemn than
before. Two hundred and ninety-six brides! She seemed to see the long
procession filing past. She wondered where they all were, and what had
been their life-histories. Later in the evening, she could not resist
the temptation to ask him, further:

“How many of the two hundred and ninety-six have you buried, Dr.
Armington?”

And the old man’s lip trembled, and his voice was husky, as he said:

“Don’t ask me, child. A long array of names, among them two of my own
daughters. But I shall sit down with a great many of them soon, at ‘the
marriage supper of the Lamb.’ I hope none of them will wear starless
crowns.”

And Marion turned from him quickly, feeling that she had gotten her
word to live by.

About that party. They lived through it, and, in a sense, it was a
success. There were, of course, many mortifications; but by dint of
shutting her eyes and her ears as far as possible, and keeping on the
alert in every direction, and remembering her recent resolutions,
very solemnly renewed, Ruth bore the ordeal reasonably well. She had
more help than she knew of. Susan Erskine had inherited more of her
father’s nature than her mother’s. It was not easy for her to yield,
and she did not enjoy being managed. She could sacrifice her will, or
her plans, or her comfort, if she saw a _need-be_ for it, or if, in
any sense, the strong, and, to her, solemn word, “Duty,” could be put
in as a plea; but to be controlled in the mere matter of her dress—and
that, after she had determined that to spend time and money, other
than was absolutely necessary, on the adorning of the perishing body,
was a moral wrong—was something that could not be expected of her. She
was not conscious of any other feeling than that of duty; but, in her
heart, she was grieved, not to say insulted. Here had they—her mother
and herself—been ignored for eighteen years, allowed to dress as they
pleased, and go where they pleased, or not go at all; and, now that
their tardy rights were being in a degree recognized, it was the paltry
question of _dress_ that must absorb them! She was willing to make many
concessions to Ruth. There were times when she pitied her. In fact, she
had constant and sincere sympathy for her in this invasion of home and
name. She realized that the blame was in no sense Ruth’s, and to shield
her, as much as possible, from the inevitable suffering, was Susan’s
natural feeling. But, when it came to strictly personal questions—what
colors she should wear, and what material, and how it should be made
up—she rebelled. Surely those were matters which she had a right to
decide for herself. Mother might be easily managed, if she would;
perhaps it was well that she could be. But, for herself, Susan felt
that it would be impossible, and hoped most earnestly that no attempt
would be made in that direction.

As for Ruth, she thought of the matter in a troubled way, and
shrank from entering into detail. The most she had done was to ask,
hesitatingly, what she—Susan—would wear, on the evening in question.
And Susan had answered her, coldly, that she “had not given the matter
a thought, as yet.” She supposed it would be time enough to think about
that when the hour for dressing arrived. In her heart she knew that
she had but one thing to wear; and Ruth knew it too, and knew that it
was ill-chosen and ill-made, and in every way inappropriate. Yet she
actually turned away, feeling unable to cope with the coldness and the
evident reserve of this young woman over whom she could not hope to
have influence.

Curiously enough, it was gentle little Flossy who stepped into these
troubled waters, and poured her noiseless drop of oil. She came in
the morning, waiting for Ruth to go with her to make a farewell call
on Marion Wilbur, the morning before the wedding; and in the library,
among the plants, giving them loving little touches here and there, was
Susan.

“What is Marion to wear for travelling, do you know?” Flossy had asked
of Ruth, as some word about the journey suggested the thought. And Ruth
had answered briefly, almost savagely:

“I don’t know. It is a blessed thing that no one will have to give it a
thought. Marion will be sure to choose the most appropriate thing, and
to have every detail in exquisite keeping with it. It is only lately
that I have realized what a gift she had in that direction.”

Then Ruth had gone away to make ready, and wise little Flossy, looking
after her with the far-away, thoughtful look in her soft eyes, began to
see one of her annoyances plainly, and to wonder if there were any way
of helping. Then she went down the long room to Susan, busy among the
plants.

“How pretty they are!” she said, sweetly. “What gorgeous coloring, and
delicate tracery in the leaves! Does it ever occur to you to wonder
that such great skill should have been expended in just making them
look pretty to please our eyes?”

“No,” said Susan, earnest and honest, “I don’t think I ever thought of
it.”

“I do often. Just think of that ivy, it would have grown as rapidly and
been quite as healthy if the leaves had been square, and all of them an
intense green, instead of being shaded into that lovely dark, scolloped
border all around the outer edge. ‘He has made every thing beautiful
in his time.’ I found that verse one day last week, and I liked it _so
much_. Since then I seem to be noticing everybody and everything, to
see whether the beauty remains. I find it everywhere.”

All this was wonderfully new to Susan Erskine. She was silent and
thoughtful. Presently she said, “It doesn’t apply to human beings—at
least to many it doesn’t. I know good men and women who are not
beautiful at all.”

“Wouldn’t that depend a little on what one meant by beauty?” Flossy
said, timidly. Argument was not her forte. “And then, you know,
He _made_ the plants and flowers—created their beauty for them, I
mean, because they are soulless things—I think he left to us who are
immortal, a great deal of the fashioning to do for ourselves.”

“Oh, of course, there is a moral beauty which we find in the faces of
the most ordinary, but I was speaking of physical beauty.”

“So was I,” said Flossy, with an emphatic nod of her pretty little
head. “I didn’t mean anything deep and wise, at all. I don’t know
anything about what they call ‘esthetics,’ or any of those scientific
phrases. I mean just pretty things. Now, to show you how simple my
thought was, that ivy leaf made me think of a pretty dress, well made
and shapely, you know, and fitted to the face and form of the wearer.
I thought the One who made such lovely plants, and finished them so
exquisitely, must be pleased to see us study enough of His works to
make ourselves look pleasing to the eyes of others.”

Susan Erskine turned quite away from the plants and stared at her guest
with wide, open, amazed eyes, for a full minute. “Don’t you think,”
she asked at last, and her tone was of that stamp which indicates
suppressed force—“don’t you think that a great deal of time, and a
great deal of money, and a great deal of force, which might do wonders
elsewhere, are wasted on dress?”

“Yes,” said Flossy, simply and sweetly, “I know that is so. After I
was converted, for a little while it troubled me very much. I had been
in the habit of spending a great deal of time and not a little money
in that way, and I knew it must be wrong, and I was greatly in danger
of going to the other extreme. I think for a few days I made myself
positively ugly to my father and mother, by the unbecoming way in which
I thought I ought to dress. But after awhile it came to me, that it
really took very little more time to look _well_ than it did to look
ill-dressed; and that if certain colors became the form and complexion
that God had given me, and certain others did not, there could be no
religion in wearing those not fitted to me. God made them all, and he
must have meant some of them specially for me, just as he specially
thought about me in other matters. Oh, I haven’t gone into the question
very deeply; I want to understand it better. I am going to ask Mr.
Roberts about it the very next time he comes. But, meantime, I feel
sure that the Lord Jesus wants me to please my parents and my sister in
every reasonable way. Sister Kitty is really uncomfortable if colors
don’t assimilate, and what right have I to make her uncomfortable, so
long as the very rose leaves are tinted with just the color of all
others that seemed fitted to them?”

Susan mused.

“What would you do,” she asked presently, “if you had been made with
that sense of the fitness of things left out? I mean, suppose you
hadn’t the least idea whether you ought to wear green, or yellow, or
what. Some people are so constituted that they don’t know what you
mean when you tell them that certain colors don’t assimilate; what are
_they_ to do?”

“Yes,” said Flossy, gently and sweetly, “I know what you mean, because
people are made very differently about these things. I am trying to
learn how to make bread. I don’t know in the least. I can make cake,
and desserts, and all those things, but Mr. Roberts likes the bread
that our cook makes, and as I don’t know how to make that kind, nor any
other, I thought I ought to learn. It isn’t a bit natural to me. I have
to be very particular to remember all the tiresome things about it; I
hadn’t an idea there were so many. And I say to the cook, ‘Now, Katy,
what am I to do next? this doesn’t look right at all.’ And she comes
and looks over my shoulder, and says, ‘Why, child, you need more flour;
always put in flour till you get rid of that dreadful stickiness.’ Then
I say to myself, ‘That dreadful stickiness is to be gotten rid of, and
flour will rid me of it, it seems,’ and I determine in my own mind that
I will remember that item for future use. I don’t really like the work
at all. It almost seems as though bread ought to be made without such
an expenditure of time and strength. But it isn’t, you know, and so I
try; and when I think of how Mr. Roberts likes it, I feel glad that I
am taking time and pains to learn. You know there are so many things
to remember about it, from the first spoonful of yeast, down to the
dampening of the crust and tucking up the loaves when they come out
of the oven, that it really takes a good deal of memory. I asked Mr.
Roberts once if he thought there would be any impropriety in my asking
for ability to take in all the details that I was trying to learn. He
laughed at me a little—he often does—but he said there could be no
impropriety in praying about anything that it was proper to do.”

“Thank you,” said Susan Erskine, promptly. Then she did what was an
unusual thing for her to do. She came over to the daintily dressed
little blossom on the sofa, and bending her tall form, kissed the
delicately flushed cheek, lightly and tenderly.

“Ruth,” said little Flossy, as they made their way toward the
street-car. “I think I like your new sister very much, indeed. I am not
sure but she is going to be a splendid woman. I think she has it in her
to be grandly good.”

“When did you become such a discerner of character, little girlie?” was
Ruth’s answer, but she felt grateful to Flossy. The words had helped
her.

As for Susan, she went back to the plants, and hovered over them
quite as lovingly, but more thoughtfully than before. She studied the
delicately-veined leaves and delicately-tinted blossoms all the while,
with a new light in her eyes. This small sweet-faced girl, who had
looked to the plainly-attired, narrow-visioned Susan, like a carefully
prepared edition of a late fashion-plate, had given her some entirely
new ideas in regard to this question of dress. It seemed that there
was a _duty_ side to it that she had not canvassed. “What right have I
to make her uncomfortable?” gentle Flossy had asked, speaking of her
sister Kitty. Susan repeated the sentence to herself, substituting
Ruth’s name for Kitty’s. Presently she went to her own room.

“Ruth,” she said, later in the day, when they were for a moment alone
together “would you like to have me get a new dress for the tea-party?”

Tea-party was a new name for the social gathering, but it was what
Susan had heard such gatherings called. Ruth hesitated, looked at the
questioner doubtfully a moment, then realizing that here was one with
whom she could be straightforward, said frankly, “Yes, I would, very
much.”

“What would you like me to get?”

“I think you would look well in one of those dark greens that are
almost like an ivy-leaf in tint. Do you know what I mean?”

Susan laughed. She did not take in the question; she was thinking that
it was a singular and a rather pleasant coincidence that she should be
advised to dress after the fashion of the ivy-leaf which had served for
illustration in the morning.

“I don’t suppose I ever looked well in my life,” she said at last,
smiling brightly. “Perhaps it would be well to try the sensation. If
you will be so kind, I should like you to select and purchase a dress
for me that shall be according to your taste, only remembering that I
dress as plainly as is consistent with circumstances, from principle.”

When she was alone again, she said, with an amused smile curving her
lip, “I must get rid of that dreadful stickiness, and flour will do
it!” That is what the dear little thing said. “Dark green will do it
for me, it seems. If I find that to be the case I must remember it.”

Ruth dressed for shopping with a relieved heart. She was one of those
to whom shopping was an artistic pleasure, besides she had never had
anyone, save herself, on which to exhibit taste. She was not sure that
it would be at all disagreeable.

“She begins to comprehend the necessities of the position a little, I
believe,” she said, meaning Susan. And _she_ didn’t know that Flossy
Shipley’s gentle little voice, and carefully chosen words, had laid
down a solid plank of _duty_ for her uncompromising sister to tread
upon.



CHAPTER VIII.

FINDING ONE’S CALLING.


DURING the days which preceded that social gathering, Ruth found her
mind often busy with the wonders of the verse which had been quoted at
prayer-meeting. She recognized it as from the chapter which she had
read in the morning, and she re-read it, filled with a new sense of its
meaning. She sought after and earnestly desired to realize peace with
God. How wonderful would it be to be able to say, “And not only so, but
we glory in tribulation!” Poor Ruth believed that she understood the
meaning of that word, “tribulation.” Would it be possible for her ever
to “glory” in it? As she read those verses and thought about them, she
seemed to hear again the peculiar ring of triumph that there was in
Susan’s voice, as she repeated the words, “_She_ feels it.” Ruth said
to herself, “I believe she knows more about these things than I do; I
wonder how she came to get the thought in the first place? I read the
verse and didn’t take it in. Perhaps she has taken in other things,
about which I know nothing, and which would help me?”

Thinking these thoughts, dwelling on them, they culminated in a sudden
resolution, which led her to tap at the door of Susan’s room. She was
cordially invited to enter. Susan was engaged in dusting the row of
books, in dull and somewhat shabby binding, that ornamented the pretty
table under the gaslight.

“Have a seat,” she said; “I can’t think how the dust gets at my books
so often; I put them in order this morning. They are my good old
friends, and I like to take special care of them, but they are fading.”

She fingered the bindings with loving hands, and Ruth, curious to see
what they were, drew near enough to read some of the titles, “Cruden’s
Concordance,” “A Bible Text-Book,” “Barnes Notes on the Gospels,” and
“Bushnell’s Moral Uses of Dark Things.” The others were old and, some
of them, obsolete school text-books.

“I haven’t many,” Susan said, in a tender tone, “but they are very
useful. They have been my best friends for so long that I think I
should be a real mourner over the loss of one of them.”

The new dark-green dress lay on the bed, and some soft, rare laces, a
gift to Susan that day from her father, lay beside it. Ruth glanced
that way, “Have you tried on the dress since it was finished?”

“No, I thought it would be time enough in the morning, and I had a
little reading that I was anxious to do this evening.”

“What are you reading? something that you like?”

“Yes, very much,” Susan said, with a rare smile lighting her pale face;
“I only began it the other night. I didn’t know it was so rich. It is
the first chapter of Colossians, but I only read to the fifth verse.”

Ruth looked her amazement. “Why, you must have been interrupted very
constantly.”

Susan shook her head. “No, on the contrary, I spent very nearly an
hour over those four verses; the longer I studied on them the more
remarkable they became, and I found myself held.”

“Is the meaning so very obscure?”

“Not at all; the meaning is there on the surface; the only thing is,
there is so much, and it leads one’s thoughts in so many different
ways. Do you remember the second verse?”

“I don’t remember it at all; very likely I never read it.”

“Well, the second verse is addressed, ‘To the saints and faithful
brethren in Christ, which are at Colosse.’ That sentence arrested my
thoughts completely. Suppose I had been living at Colosse in those
days, could I have claimed that letter to the _saints_? I stopped over
the word and wondered over it, and queried just what it meant, and it
meant so much that I should really have gotten no farther than that
sentence if I had not deliberately left it and gone on to the ‘Grace
be unto you and peace.’ I found my heart craving peace: I think I was
somewhat like the child who claims the reward, or reaches out after
it, without waiting to be sure whether he has met the conditions.”

“But I don’t understand you very well. What about saints? they were
holy men, were they not, set apart for special work at that special
time? How _could_ their experience touch yours?”

“I don’t think so. I think they were just men and women who loved the
Lord Jesus Christ, and were called by his name, just as you and I are.”

“But _we_ are not saints; at least I am not.”

“But you are called to be?”

“I don’t understand you.”

“_Don’t_ you? Think of that verse of Paul’s, ‘Unto the Church of God,
which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus,
_called to be saints_.’ Now, you know _we_ are sanctified in Christ
Jesus, so are we not called to be saints?”

“I don’t know what ‘sanctified’ means very well; and, besides, I can’t
help thinking that the letter was written to the Church at Corinth. _I_
don’t live in Corinth; how do I know that the address fits me? If I
should find a letter addressed to the people who live on Twenty-third
Street, wouldn’t I be likely to say, ‘Well, I have nothing to do with
that; I live on Fifth Avenue?’”

“Ah! but suppose the very next sentence read, ‘And to all that love the
Lord Jesus Christ,’ wouldn’t you claim the letter?”

“Yes,” said Ruth, with a flash of joy in her face, “I think I could.”

“Well, don’t you know the next words are, ‘With all that in every place
call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.’”

“I never thought of it,” said Ruth. Then, after a little, “Did you find
out what a saint was?”

“Why I found some characteristics of them, and tried to see if they
answered my description. Have you ever looked the matter up?”

“No,” said Ruth, “I did not so much as know that I was expected to be a
saint; tell me what you found.”

“Why,” said Susan, drawing her chair and opening her Bible, “see here,
I found a promise, ‘He will keep the feet of his saints.’ It made me
all the more eager to learn as to my claim. Was I his saint? would he
keep me? In that same verse there is a contrast, ‘He will keep the
feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness.’ Now,
if there are only two classes of people, saints and the wicked, which
am I? In God’s sight who are the wicked? I looked for a description
of them and found this statement: ‘The Lord preserveth all them that
love him, but all the wicked will he destroy.’ Now, I _know_ I love
the Lord, and I know that he will not destroy me, for I have in my
heart the assurance of his promise. If that is so, _I_ must be one of
his saints. Then I found the promise, ‘He shall give his angels charge
over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.’ Keep who? And looking back
a little I found, ‘He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most
High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.’ But he promises
to keep only those who are _his saints_. Then I found the promise,
‘He maketh intercession for the _saints_.’ Now, I said, if there is
no one interceding between a just God and me, what will become of me?
But I found the inspired statement of St. Paul, ‘Wherefore he is
able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing
he ever liveth to make intercession for _them_.’ That puts me at once
among those for whom he intercedes, and his special work in heaven
is to make intercession for the saints. By this time I was ready to
claim the name, and you may know I was anxious to find what it meant.
I went to the dictionary; the first definition I found was, ‘A person
sanctified.’ That startled me. Could it be that I was sanctified? Why,
I feel so sinful, and so weak, and so small! Well, I said, What does
‘sanctified’ mean? and I found that it was defined as set apart to a
holy or religious use. It recalled to my mind the statement of Paul.
‘But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the
name of the Lord Jesus.’ A great deal ought to be expected of us, after
that.”

Ruth drew a long sigh. “I don’t know anything about it, I believe,”
she said, sadly; “I never read the Bible in that way. Half the time it
doesn’t seem to have anything in it really for me.”

“Don’t you think that some of our trouble is in being content with
simply _reading_, not _studying_ the Bible? I thought the other night
that if I had spent an hour on geometry, and then begun to understand
it somewhat, I should feel as though I were repaid. But sometimes I
read a Bible verse over two or three times, and then, because its
meaning is obscure, I feel half discouraged. I was speaking of it to—to
father last evening, and he said he thought the trouble was largely in
that direction.” Susan had not yet gotten so that she could speak the
unfamiliar name without hesitation. As for Ruth, her brow clouded; it
did not seem to her that she could ever share that name with anyone.
But she was interested—and deeply so—in the train of thought which had
been started.

“What next?” she asked, curious to see whither Susan’s thoughts had led
her. “You said you read no farther than the fourth verse. What stopped
you there? I don’t see much in it;” and she leaned forward and re-read
the verse from Susan’s open Bible.

“Oh, why _don’t_ you? ‘Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus,
and of the love which ye have to all the saints.’ That verse stopped
me longer than any other, especially the sentence: ‘Since we heard of
your faith in Christ Jesus’—it is such a common form of expression. I
thought of it last evening while listening to the talk in the parlor.
‘I heard that the Wheelers were going abroad,’ some one said; and
another, ‘I heard that Dr. Thomas was soon to bring a wife home.’ Two
of the young ladies talked in low tones, and nearly all I could catch
was the expression: ‘I heard he was,’ or ‘she was,’ or ‘they were.’ It
was evident that a great deal had been heard about a great many people.
I said over the verse: ‘We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus.’ Who
hears of such things? How many people have such marked and abiding
faith in Christ Jesus, that when we talk of them we say, ‘I heard that
Miss So and So had the most implicit faith in the power of Christ to
keep her.’ Now wouldn’t that be a strange thing to say?”

“I should think it would,” said Ruth, amazed at this train of thought.
“After all, I suppose many people have the _faith_; only it is not the
custom in society to talk about such things.”

“I don’t,” answered Susan, positively. “Of course many people have
it in a degree; but not to such an extent that it arouses interest,
and excites remark. I think it is the custom in society to talk about
that which interests people—which has been suggested to their minds
by passing events. I have heard that it is a very common thing in
localities where Mr. Moody has been holding meetings, to discuss his
remarkable faith and love. Don’t you suppose, if my Christian life
were so marked a force that all who came in contact with me, felt its
influence, it would be natural to speak of it, when my friends chanced
to mention my name?”

“I suppose so,” Ruth said, slowly. “At least I don’t see why it should
not be; and, indeed, it is very common for people to talk about the
change in Flossy Shipley.”

Susan’s voice was very earnest. “I wish I could bear such testimony as
that. I believe it would be right to be ambitious in that direction;
to live so that when people spoke of me at all, the most marked thing
they could say about me would be, not, how I dressed, or appeared,
or talked, but how strong my faith in the Lord Jesus was, and how it
colored all my words and acts. Wouldn’t that be a grand ambition?”

“And of the love which ye have to all the saints,” Ruth repeated, half
aloud, half to herself; her eye had caught the words again. Suddenly
she started, and the blood flowed in ready waves into her cheeks. She
had caught a new and personal meaning to the words—“love to _all_ the
saints.” Suppose this usurper of home and name, who sat near her—this
objectionable sister—suppose _she_ were one of the saints!—and I verily
believe she is, Ruth said to her beating heart—then, would it be
possible so to live, that people would ever say, “She loves that sister
of hers, because she recognizes in her one of the Lord’s own saints?”
Nothing looked less probable than this! She could not bring her heart
to feel that she could _ever_ love her. A sort of kindly interest, she
might grow to feel, an endurance that would become passive, and, in a
sense, tolerable, but could she ever help paling, or flushing, when she
heard this new voice say “father,” and realized that she had a right to
the name, even as she herself had? She had been the only Miss Erskine
so long; and she had been so proud of the old aristocratic name,
and she had felt so deeply the blot upon its honor, that it seemed
to her she could never come to look with anything like _love_ upon
one connected with the bitterness. Yet, it did flash over her, with a
strange new sense of power, that Susan Erskine held nearer relation to
her than even these human ties. If _she_ was indeed a daughter of the
Most High, if the Lord Jesus Christ was her Elder Brother, then was
this girl her sister, a daughter of royal blood, and perhaps—she almost
believed it—holding high position up there, where souls are looked at,
instead of bodies.

A dozen times, during the evening which followed this conversation,
did the words of this Bible verse, and the thoughts connected there
with, flash over Ruth. It was the evening of the social gathering. Now,
that Susan had called her attention to it, she was astonished over the
number of times that those words: “I heard,” were on people’s lips.
They had heard of contemplated journeys, and changes in business, and
changes in name, and reverses, and good fortunes, and contemplated
arrangements for amusement, or entertainment, or instruction;
_everything_ they had heard about their friends or their acquaintances.
Yet, no one said, during the whole evening—so far as she knew—that they
had heard anything very marked about the religious life of anyone.
In fact, religious life was one of the things that was not talked of
at all; so Ruth thought. If she had stood near Judge Burnham and her
sister, at one time, she would have heard him saying:

“He is a man of mark in town; one prominent on every good occasion;
noted for his philanthropy and generosity, and is one of the few men
whom everybody seems to trust, without ever having their confidence
jarred. I have heard it said, that his word would be taken in any
business transaction as quickly as his bond would be.”

“Is he a Christian man?” Susan had asked; and a half-amused,
half-puzzled look had shadowed Judge Burnham’s face, as he answered:
“As to that, I really don’t know. I have never heard that he made
any professions in that direction, though it is possible that he may
be connected with some church. Why, Miss Erskine, do you think it
impossible for a man to be honest and honorable and philanthropic,
unless he has made some profession of it in a church?”

Then Susan had looked at the questioner steadily and thoughtfully a
moment before she answered: “I was not thinking of possible morality;
I was simply wondering whether the man who was building so fair and
strong a house had looked to it, that it was founded upon a rock, or
whether he really were so strangely improvident as to build upon the
sand. You know _I_ think, that, ‘other foundation can no man lay than
that which is laid, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone.’”

So there was some religious conversation at the Erskines’ party, and it
sent Judge Burnham home thinking. And now, though the fruits of that
evening’s gathering will go on growing and ripening and being gathered
in, from human lives, so far as we personally are concerned, we are
done with that party.



CHAPTER IX.

A SOCIETY CROSS.


THE next thing that occurred to mar the peace of this much-tried young
lady—she went out calling with her step-mother. This duty was passed
over just as long as it would do to ignore the claims of society, she
being finally driven to it by realizing that more talk was being made
by _not_ going than would be likely to result from going. Then, with
foreboding heart, she made ready. She planned at first to escape it all
and have her father the victim. But there were two difficulties. He had
rarely made other than professional calls, or most ceremonious ones on
persons high in the profession, and, therefore this whole matter would
be so new to him that to tide the bewildered wife through it would be
well-nigh impossible. And, besides, Ruth felt the necessity of being
present, to know the very worst that could be said or done, and to
attempt going as a trio was not to be thought of for a moment. There
was one bright spot in her annoyances: It was pleasant to remember the
look of relief which gleamed over her father’s face when she told him
he could be excused from attendance on them if he chose. “I can save
him so much, at least,” she told herself, and it helped her to make
ready. “If she would _only_ keep perfectly quiet!” she murmured again
to herself, as she waited at the door of her mother’s room for the last
glove to be drawn on, and marked what an effect the rich black silk,
with its perfect fitting seams, and perfectly draped folds had on the
dumpy figure. “If she only _could_ get along without talking she would
do very well.”

Great attention had been paid by Ruth to the details of this toilet.
The soft laces at throat and wrist, the rich mantle, the shapely hat
with the unmistakable air of “style” about it, even to the gloves of
exactly the right shade and size, had each been objects of separate
study; and Mrs. Erskine, though occasionally she had fond memories
of the green silk dress, and the red bow—which she began to be dimly
conscious were never destined to shine together—yet took in so much
of the general effect as filled her with surprise and reconciled
her to the position of lay figure in Ruth’s hands, looking upon her
step-daughter with the same degree of surprised awe that a statue
might, could it be gifted with life and behold itself getting draped
for the tableau.

The calls started nicely, Flossy Shipley’s being the first home at
which they halted. Flossy, in her sweet, winning, indescribable way,
decoyed Mrs. Erskine into a corner easy chair, and engaged her in
low-toned, earnest, even absorbed conversation, while Ruth tried to
unbend from her dignity and chat with Flossy’s cheery, social mother.
Glancing from time to time toward the elder woman and the fair young
girl, and noting the fact that both were unmistakably interested in
their subject for conversation, Ruth found herself wondering what it
_could_ be. Whatever it was she was grateful, and gave Flossy a most
informal and tender kiss at parting, by way of expressing her relief.

Then, too, Dr. and Mrs. Dennis were at home, and were joyfully glad to
see them, and Dr. Dennis held Mrs. Erskine’s attention, leaving Ruth
free to talk with, and look at, and wonder over Marion, she seemed so
fresh and bright and glad; full of eagerness, full of plans, full of
heartiness, for any and everything that might be mentioned. “She is at
least ten years younger than I ever knew her to be,” was Ruth’s mental
conclusion as she watched the expressive face. There was no restraint
in their talk. Ruth felt, that for the time-being, she could throw off
the burden of responsibility and have a good time. She did not know
what Dr. Dennis was saying to her step-mother, and she did not care, it
was so pleasant to feel that she could trust him, that he was a friend,
and would neither repeat to others the mistakes of the uncultured woman
with whom he talked, nor laugh about them with Marion when she was
gone. Ruth not only respected and liked, but thoroughly trusted her
pastor.

“I am glad she married him,” she told herself, glancing from one to the
other, and feeling, rather than noticing, that they were both evidently
heartily glad about the same thing. “They are just exactly suited
to each other, and that is saying a good deal for them both. What a
blessed change the brightness of this room must be when she compares it
with that little den of hers, up the third flight of stairs!” Yes, and
there was another side to that. What a nameless charm, as of home, she
had thrown over the propriety of the parsonage parlor! Before, it had
been a _room_—pleasant and proper, and well-cared for, as became the
parsonage parlor—now, it was _home_! Presently, too, came Gracie, with
her beautiful face and gracious manner, free and cordial and at ease.
“Mamma,” she said as naturally as though it had been a name constantly
on her lips; and, indeed, it was plain that she enjoyed the name.
There were no sad contrasts to dim her eyes, or quicken the beatings
of her heart, the real mother having only had time to give her darling
one clinging kiss before God called her home. “She may well be proud
of such a mother as her father has brought to _her_,” Ruth thought,
looking from one to the other, and noting the glance of sympathy which
passed between them. And then she sighed, being drawn back to her
heavier lot. Marion’s dreary life had blossomed into brightness, while
all that was ever bright had gone out of hers; at least so it seemed to
her. Then she arose, realizing that nothing of this afternoon’s crosses
would be borne if she whiled the time on Flossy Shipley and Marion
Dennis.

From the moment that the two were seated in Mrs. Schuyler Colman’s
parlor peace left Ruth’s heart. Here was responsibility, solemn and
overwhelming—how to tide this uncultured woman through the shoals and
breakers of this aristocratic atmosphere. No sooner was Mrs. Erskine
fairly seated than she broke the proprieties of the occasion with the
exclamation:

“Why, my patience! if there isn’t Dr. Mason Kent, staring right
straight at me! What a splendid likeness! I declare I most feel as
though he ought to speak to me.”

“Was Dr. Kent an acquaintance of yours?”

Nothing could be colder, more lofty, more in keeping with the
proprieties, than the tone in which Mrs. Schuyler Colman asked the
question.

“An acquaintance! why I guess he was. I sewed in his house nigh on
two months before his oldest daughter was married. They had a regular
seamstress in the house, one who belonged to the family, you know. O!
they were high up in the world, I tell you. But she needed extra help
when the rush came, and there was always lots of plain sewing to do,
anyway, and the woman I sewed for last recommended me, and I got in. It
was a nice place. They gave good pay; better than I ever got anywhere
else, and I always remembered Dr. Kent; he was as kind as he could be.”

Shall I try to describe to you the glow on Ruth Erskine’s face? What
had become of her haughty indifference to other people’s opinions?
What had become of her loftily expressed scorn of persons who indulged
in pride of station, or pride of birth? Ah! little this young woman
knew about her own heart. Gradually she was discovering that _she_ had
plenty of pride of birth and station and name. The thing which had
seemed plebeian to her was to _exhibit_ such pride in a marked way
before others.

Mrs. Colman seemed to consider it necessary to make some reply:

“Dr. Kent is an uncle of mine,” she said, and her voice was freezing in
its dignity.

“You don’t say! Where is he now? How I should like to see the dear old
man! I wonder, Ruth, that your pa didn’t tell me his relatives lived
here. It was at his house that I first saw your pa. I shall never
forget that night, if I live to be a hundred. They had a party, or a
dinner, or—well, I forget what the name of it was; but it was after
the wedding, you know, and crowds of fashionables was there. I was in
a back passage, helping sort out the rubbers and things that had got
mixed up; and I peeked out to see them march to dinner; and I see them
all as plain as day. I said then—says I, to Mirandy Bates, the girl
that I was helping: ‘That tall man with the long whiskers and pale face
is the stylishest one amongst ’em, I think.’ And who do you suppose it
was but your pa! Land alive! I had just as much idea of marrying him,
_then_, as I had of flying and no more.”

“I should suppose so,” said Mrs. Schuyler Colman. She could not resist
the temptation of saying it, though Ruth darted a lightning glance at
her from eyes that were gleaming in a face that had become very pale.
She arose suddenly, remarking that they were making a very lengthy
call; and Mrs. Erskine, to whom the call seemed very short, began to
be uncomfortably conscious that she had been talking a great deal, and
perhaps not to Ruth’s liking. She relapsed into an embarrassed silence,
and made her adieu in the most awkward manner possible. Had Ruth taken
counsel of her own nerves, she would have felt it impossible to endure
more, and have beaten a retreat; but to sustain her was the memory of
the fact that certain calls _must_ be made, and, that if she did not
make them, her father must. When it came to the martyr spirit, and she
could realize that she was being martyrized in her father’s place, she
could endure. But, oh, if she could _only_ manage to give this dreadful
woman a hint as to the proprieties! And yet, suppose she stopped that
dreadful tide of reminiscences, what _would_ the woman talk about?
Still, at all hazards, it must be risked:

“I do not think,” she began, in a tone so constrained that the very
sound of it frightened her step-mother. “I do not think that my father
would like to have you refer to your past life, among his friends.”

“My patience!” said Mrs. Judge Erskine. “Why not? I never done anything
to be ashamed of—never in my life. I was an honest, respectable girl.
There ain’t one who knew me but could tell you that; and, as to being
poor, why, I couldn’t help that, you know; and I ain’t been rich such a
dreadful long time that I’ve forgot how it felt, neither. Not that your
pa kept me close; he never did that. But I kept myself close, you see,
because I had no kind of a notion that he was so rich.”

This was worse than the former strain. Ruth was almost desperate:

“It makes no difference to me how poor you were, Madam, but it is not
the custom in society to tell all about one’s private affairs.”

And then, in the next breath, she wondered what Judge Erskine would
have said, could he have heard her address his wife in that tone,
and with those words. At least she had frightened her into silence.
And they rang at Mrs. Huntington’s and were admitted—an angry
woman, with flashing eyes, and a cowed woman, who wished she was at
home, and didn’t know what to say. Poor Ruth was sorry that she had
interfered. Perhaps any sort of talk would have been less observable
than this awkward, half frightened silence; also, Judge Burnham was
in the room, at the other end of the parlor, among the books, as one
familiar there. Mrs. Huntington belonged to the profession. Was it more
or less embarrassing because of his presence? Ruth could not bring
herself to being sure which it was. Mrs. Huntington was a genial woman,
though an exceedingly stylish one; but she knew as little how to put
a frightened, constrained person at ease, as it was possible to know
about anything; and yet her heart was good enough.

“I suppose you attended the concert, last evening, Mrs. Erskine?” she
said, addressing that lady with a smile, and in a winning tone of
voice. But Mrs. Erskine looked over at Ruth, in the absurd fashion of a
naughty child, who, having been punished for some misdemeanor, glances
at you, to be sure that he is not offending in the same way again.
Ruth was selecting a card from her case to leave for Miss Almina
Huntington, and apparently gave no notice to her mother. Left thus to
her own resources, what could she do but answer, as best she knew how?

“Well, no, I didn’t. Judge Erskine got tickets, and said he would take
me if I wanted to go; but I didn’t want to go. The fact is, I suppose,
it is want of education, or something; but I ain’t a might of taste for
those concerts. I like singing, too. I used to go to singing-school,
when I was a girl, and I was reckoned to have a good voice, and I
used to like it first-rate—sang in the choir, you know, and all that;
but these fiddle-dee-dee, screech-owl performances that they get off
nowadays, and call music, I can’t stand, nohow. I went to one of ’em.
I thought I’d like to please Judge Erskine, you know, and I went; and
they said it was fine, and perfectly glorious, and all that; but I
didn’t think so, and that’s the whole of it. I gaped and gaped the
whole blessed evening. I was ashamed of myself, but I couldn’t help it.
I tried to listen, too, and get the best of it, but it was just yelp
and howl, and I couldn’t make out a word, no more than if it had been
in Dutch; and I dunno but it was. I don’t like ’em, and I can’t help
it.”

Mrs. Erskine was growing independent and indignant. Silence was not
her forte, and, in the few minutes which she had spent thus, she had
resolved not to pretend to be what she wasn’t.

“I don’t like them yelping, half-dressed women, nor them roaring men,”
she said, swiftly, to herself, “and I mean to say so. Why shouldn’t I?”

Poor Ruth! It was not that she enjoyed or admired operatic singing,
or the usual style of modern concert singing. In a calm, dignified,
haughty way, she had been heard to say that she thought music had
degenerated, and was being put to very unintellectual uses in these
days, in comparison with what had been its place. But that was such
a very different thing from talking about “fiddle-dee-dee,” and
“screeching,” and “howling,” and, above all, “_gaping_!” What _could_
be said? Mrs. Huntington was not equal to the occasion. She was no
more capable of appreciating what there was of beauty in the singing
than her caller was, but she was aware that society expected her to
appreciate it; so she did it! Judge Burnham came to the rescue:

“You are precisely of my mind, Mrs Erskine,” he said, appearing from
the recesses of the back parlor, and bowing to Ruth, while he advanced
to offer his hand to her step-mother. “You have characterized the
recent concerts in the exact language that they deserve. Such singing
is not music; it is simply ‘fiddle-dee-dee!’”

“Why, Judge Burnham!”

This, in an expostulating tone, from Mrs. Huntington.

“Fact, my dear Madam. It was simply screeching, last evening; nothing
else in the world. I was a victim, and I defy anyone, with a cultured
taste, to have enjoyed it. It was almost an impossibility to endure.
Mrs. Erskine, I want to show you a picture, which I think you will
like, if you will step this way with me.”

And he escorted the gratified little woman down the length of the
parlor, and devoted himself carefully to her, during the rest of the
very brief call which Ruth made. He came, also, to the very door-steps
with her, talking still to the mother, covering with dextrous
gallantry her awkwardness of manner and movement.

“Thank you,” said Ruth, in a low tone, as he turned to her with a
parting bow. She could not help it, and she did not fail to notice the
gleam of pleasure which lighted his grave face at her words.

“Aren’t you tired?” she asked her mother, as they moved away from the
Huntington mansion. Her martyr spirit had passed from her. She felt
utterly worn, as if it were impossible for her to endure more. “Don’t
you want to go home?”

“Bless you, yes. I’m clear tuckered out. I didn’t dream that it was
such awful hard work to make calls. I don’t wonder your pa didn’t want
to go. Yes, let’s go home, for the land’s sake!”

And they went home. When Ruth thought of Judge Burnham at all, during
the next few days, it was with a sense of gratitude, which was new, and
not unpleasant.



CHAPTER X.

OTHER PEOPLE’S CROSSES.


ONE could not live long in this world without realizing the
forcefulness of the sentence: “Every heart knoweth his own bitterness.”
Behind the sunniest, apparently most enviable life the bitterness
hides. It will not be supposed that Marion Dennis’ life, which, to
Ruth’s narrow vision, had blossomed into perfect coloring, was an
exception to the general rule.

As she stands in her pretty dining-room, waiting for the coming of her
husband, and gazes out of the window at the play of light and shade in
the western sky—gazes with that far-away, thoughtful, half-sad look,
which betokens that the gazer’s thoughts are not upon the picture which
her eyes behold—it is plain, to the most careless glance, that a tinge
of somber hue has already shaded the picture of her life. She had been
through an ordeal of calls, that afternoon; not calls from intimate
and congenial friends, who came because they desired the pleasure of a
visit with her, but from some of those who came, as in custom bound,
to pay a ceremonious visit to the new wife of their pastor. They had
not been helpful callers. Without offending any of the set rules which
are supposed to govern polite society, they had yet contrived to make
Marion feel that they were keen-sighted, keen-scented society spies,
with eyes all about them, and ears alert to hear, or to fancy what they
could. Also, they had been people—some of them—who delighted in what
they termed plain speaking, which is ofttimes decorous insult, if that
expression is not a misnomer. There are people not quite coarse enough
to express adverse criticism directly to a man’s face, and such are apt
to resort to the more refined coarseness of making their criticism
into the form of a joke, and aiming it at the face of his wife! With
one or two such persons had Marion come in contact.

“I hope you have Dr. Dennis in good subjection,” Mrs. Easterly had
said, with a peculiar little laugh that was meant to be merry, and that
jarred, without one’s being able to define why. “There is nothing like
beginning right, you know. I told Mr. Easterly, last evening, I was
afraid you would be too lenient with him; he is positively in danger of
keeping us in prayer-meeting until it is time to be thinking about the
next morning’s breakfast! Mr. Easterly said, when he got him a wife,
home would be more attractive to him; but my dear Mrs. Dennis, you must
have observed that there was no improvement last evening.”

“I observed that he was five minutes past the hour,” Marion said; and,
if Mrs. Easterly had been familiar with her voice, she would have
discovered that it was haughty in the extreme. “Dr. Dennis is very
particular to close promptly, and, when I questioned him, he said the
people were tardy about getting in, and so delayed the opening.”

“_Possible_ that it was only five minutes! I could have been positive
it was fifteen!” Mrs. Easterly said, ignoring the explanation, and the
statement about general punctuality. Such people always ignore remarks
that are not easy to be answered. Then the smooth voice went on: “I
think a clergyman should try to cultivate habits of punctuality about
_closing_, as well as opening meetings, so many people are over-wearied
by long drawn out exercises.”

“As, for instance, lectures by infidels, and the like,” remarks Marion,
still with the dryness of tone that those familiar to her understand,
and calling to mind the fact that she had heard of Mrs. Easterly as
a delighted listener, for an hour and three quarters, to the popular
infidel orator, two evenings before.

“Oh, _lectures_! Why, of course, they have a set time; every one knows
they must be lengthy. They have abstruse themes to handle, and many
classes of hearers to please.”

“But the mere commonplaces of a prayer-meeting can be compressed into
small compass, as well as not, the theme of personal salvation not
being supposed to be of much importance, nor very abstruse, I suppose.”

Mrs. Easterly arched her eyebrows; said nothing, because she didn’t
know what to say; made the rest of her stay brief, and remarked, when
she had gotten out of Marion’s hearing, that she had heard _that_
Miss Wilbur spoken of as peculiar—having infidel tendencies, indeed.
Perhaps there was a shade of truth in it. For her part, she wondered
that Dr. Dennis should have been so imprudent as to have selected that
sort of a wife. It was imprudent in Marion to have answered her caller
in those words, or in that spirit. Sarcasm was lost on her, for she
hadn’t the right sort of brains to understand it. It is a curious fact
that certain people, who can be very sarcastic in themselves, can not
understand or appreciate it in others.

And so trivial a matter as this troubled Marion? Well, yes, it did. She
had not been long in her position, you will remember. It was really her
first rude awakening from the dream that all Christian people regarded
their pastor with a certain reverent courtesy; not in a cringing or
servile spirit, not in a spirit in any sense at variance with true
independence of thought and action, but in the chivalrous spirit of the
olden time, reverencing the office, rather than the man, and according
all possible courtesy to the man, _because_ of the position he held,
as ambassador from the King’s court. Marion’s early childhood had
been spent among simple, earnest Christians—Christians whose reverent
spirit had been an outgrowth of Puritan New England; and, while her
later years had passed among a very different class of people, she
yet had clung to the fancy that _Christians_ everywhere cherished the
bond of relationship—the tie stronger than that of blood—and spoke
wisely and with respect of those who belonged, like themselves, to the
royal family. Mrs. Easterly’s words had jarred, not only because Dr.
Dennis was her husband, but because he was a clergyman, and because he
was Mrs. Easterly’s pastor. Much had she to learn, you will observe!
She was more than likely to meet often with people to whom the word
“pastor” meant less than any other title—meant, if they took time to
analyze their own feelings, one to whom they could be rude, or free, or
insultingly inquisitive, without fear of rousing him to resentment,
because resentment is not a becoming trait in the ministry!

Dr. Dennis would have smiled could he have known the turmoil in his
wife’s heart. He had so long ago passed beyond that—had so long ago
decided that people must be ranked in classes—so many from this strip
of humanity, who did not know the difference between frankness and
rudeness—so many in this strip, who, because of their lack of early
education, must not be expected to know certain things—so many in
this strip, to whom he could talk, freely, familiarly, as brother to
brother, and friend to friend—classified Christians, belonging to the
family, indeed, but having such different degrees of likeness to the
family name that, what was a matter of course from one, was a sting
from another. All these things Dr. Dennis knew; all these things his
wife had still to learn. She was willing to learn, and she was not so
foolish as to suppose that her road was strewn with roses; but, all the
name, the tiny thorn pricked her.

There were other and graver troubles than this. Do you remember how
she pleased her fancy, while yet she was an inhabitant of that
dingy third-story room, as to the dainty little teas she would get
for that young daughter of hers? Here it was, the very perfection
of a tea-table, exquisite and delicate and fascinating in all its
appointments; laid for three, yet, presently, when Dr. Dennis came from
his round of calls, and seated himself opposite his wife, and waited,
and then finally sent a messenger to Gracie’s room, who returned with
the message, “Miss Grace says will you please excuse her this evening,
she doesn’t care for any tea,” his face clouded, as though the answer
brought trouble to his heart.

“Have you had further talk with Grace?” he asked his wife, when the
door had closed on the servant.

“A little. There have been callers most of the time, but I talked with
her a few minutes.”

“What did she say?”

Marion would rather he had not asked the question. She hesitated a
little, then said, with an effort to speak lightly:

“She said what was natural enough—that she thought _I_ knew almost too
much about the matter, and might have been content to leave it to you.”

“I will not have her speaking in that manner to you,” he said, his face
growing graver, and his forehead settling into a frown. “She ought to
know better.”

“I know it,” answered Marion, a little dash of brightness in her
voice. “She ought to be perfect, of course, and not give way in this
undignified manner. It is only such old saints as you and I who have
any right to get out of tone, when things do not go just to suit us.”

He laughed a little, then he said:

“Now, Marion, you know she has tried you very much, and without cause.”

“As to that, I suppose if you and I could see into her heart, she
thinks she has sore cause. I would not make too much of it, if I were
you; and I would make nothing at all of the part which has to do with
me. She will feel differently before very long. She is young.”

Then Dr. Dennis’ thoughts went back to his daughter. He sighed heavily:

“I ought to have shielded her better; I was trying, I thought. I am so
astonished about that man! He has been a professor of religion ever
since he was a child.”

“To profess a thing is not always to possess it,” Marion said, and
then she sighed to think that even in religion this was so true; and
she sighed again to realize that in her hard life she had come more in
contact with people who _professed_ without possessing than her husband
had.

The trouble about Gracie was not so light as she had tried to make it
appear to the father. Neither had her attempt to reason the obstinate
young daughter into something like graceful yielding been so free from
self-pain as she would have him think. It was all about Prof. Ellis,
a man who, as Marion expressed it to her husband, was good enough for
a teacher, but not at all the sort of man for one so young and so
impressible as Gracie to ride away with to an evening entertainment.

“He is the only one I have been in the habit of allowing her to ride
with,” the father had said, aghast, and then had followed, on Marion’s
part, a startled exclamation to the effect that she would have trusted
her sooner with a dozen of “the boys” with whom she had not been
allowed to associate.

“They are better than he,” she said, earnestly, and then had followed a
long, confidential talk, which had ended in the peremptory, and by no
means wisely put, negative to Gracie’s plans; and then had followed, on
her part, questionings and surmises until at last she understood that
this new mother, who had been but a little while ago a stranger to them
both, had come between her father and herself, and then had followed,
as anyone of sense might have known there would, a scene which was by
no means complimentary to Gracie or comforting to the new mother. She
had tried to be wise.

“Gracie,” she had said, in her gentlest tone, “you know I am a good
many years older than you, and I have known Prof. Ellis very well, and
I am sure if you realized just the sort of a man he is you would not
care to be his familiar friend.”

“I don’t want to be his familiar friend,” Gracie had said, haughtily.
“I want to take a ride out to Katie’s with him when I have promised
to do so.” And then her eyes had fallen under the calm of Marion’s
searching gaze, and her tones had faltered. “At least I do not see that
riding out with him is a proof of very great friendship. It is no more
than I have done several times with my father’s permission.”

“But your father was deceived in him, Gracie; he had no means of
knowing the sort of man he is, save by his professions, which have been
nothing _but_ professions for years. Gracie, I know that of him which
should make every young girl unwilling to be seen in his society or
considered his friend.”

Whereupon Gracie’s eyes had flashed indignation for a second, then
settled into sullenness, while she answered, coldly:

“I should think my father ought to have been capable of judging
character a little; he has had something to do with men and life. I do
not know why I should not be able to trust myself to _his_ judgment.”

Marion smiled. It was hard to be patient with this girl. The haughty
way in which she retired behind her dignity and said, “_My_ father,”
seemed designed to shut Marion out from ownership in him, and impress
her with the sense of the newness of her acquaintance with and
entrance into the family.

“Gracie,” she said again, after a thoughtful pause, “it may not be
known to you that there have been recent developments about Prof. Ellis
that make him an undesirable friend for you. I know that, as your
teacher, you have learned to look up to and respect him, but he is in
some respects unworthy.”

There was for a few minutes no response from the sullen-browed girl,
with her head bent low over the slate, as if during the intervals of
this conversation she had eyes and thought only for the intricate
problem before her. Presently she said, in exactly the same tone of
repressed indignation which she had used before:

“I repeat that in my judgment _my_ father is just as capable of
deciding as to what gentlemen are suited to be my friends as a stranger
can be.”

Marion drew back quickly; she caught her breath hard; this was a trying
spot; what should she do or say? What would Ruth Erskine have done in
her place? At the same time there was a sense of relief in believing
that this young girl’s pride only was touched, not her heart. She was
simply rebellious that “a stranger,” as she chose to call her, should
presume to interfere with her friendships.

“I am not a stranger, Gracie,” she said, trying to speak in all
gentleness. “I am your father’s wife, and have at his request assumed
responsibilities concerning you, for which I am answerable, not only
to him, but to God. When I tell you, therefore, what your father has
had no means of knowing, until lately, that Prof. Ellis is the sort
of man whom a young lady should shun, you ought to believe me, and to
understand that my sole motive is your welfare.”

Then was Marion Dennis treated to a brilliant flashing of the handsome
eyes of her daughter. The slate and book slid to the floor with an
unheeded crash, as Gracie, rising and drawing up her tall form till it
equalled her mother’s, said, in tones of suppressed passion:

“Marion Wilbur, you have no _right_ to speak in that manner of Prof.
Ellis, and I will not bear it!”

Then Marion Dennis drew back grieved and frightened, not at her own
thrust—that was but the ill-temper of an angry girl—but because she
began to fear that this man—this wolf in sheep’s clothing, whose chief
entertainment hitherto had been to see how well he could play with
human hearts—had dared to try his powers on Gracie Dennis. “I hope he
will suffer for this,” she said, under her breath.

In the meantime what was to be said to the angry girl, whose passion
had culminated in this outburst, and who then had thrown herself back
into the chair, not weeping, not crushed and bleeding, but excitedly
_angry_. And yet, feeling that she had said a very unwise and dangerous
thing, and must answer for it—_and yet_ not caring just now in what way
she might be called upon to answer. Being still in the mood to be glad
that she had said it she expected severity, and waited for it.

“Gracie,” said Marion, bending toward her, and I do not know that her
voice had ever been gentler or her manner more quiet, “you do not mean
to hurt _me_; I know you do not. We are too nearly related; we are
sisters, _and the Lord Jesus Christ is our Elder Brother_. It is to him
that I ask you to listen; it is to his judgment, not mine, that I ask
you to defer. Will you lay this matter before him, and wait on your
knees for his answer, and abide by it, never minding me? If you will
the whole matter will be righted.”

Then she turned from her and went down to receive those calls, and get
those little thrusts and pin-pricks which pricked so much deeper and
left a keener sting because in general they were leveled at her husband
instead of herself. Then she went out to that pretty table laid for
three, and saw the grave-faced father, and heard his self-reproaches,
and held back that which would have made him indignant in the extreme;
and held back her own little sigh, and realized that life was not all
sweetness, even while Ruth sat at home and envied _her_ the brightness
of her lot.



CHAPTER XI.

A NEWLY-SHAPED CROSS.


RUTH Erskine, meantime, was keeping up her struggle, having intervals
when she seemed to be making headway, and felt as though she had
reached higher ground, only to be dropped suddenly down again, into the
depths of despair by some unfortunate encounter with the new-comers. No
more definite comment on the existing state of things could be made,
than is shadowed in that expression, “New-comers.” They still continued
to be thought of as such in the house. They did not drift into the
family ways or customs—they did not assimilate. Everything was so new
to them, so unlike their entire former education, that much of the
time they stood one side and looked on, instead of mingling and having
their individuality lost in the union. So far as Mrs. Erskine was
concerned, she did not look on _quietly_. It had been no part of her
discipline to learn quietness. She talked everywhere, under the most
trying circumstances, and she seemed always to chance upon the things
to say that were particularly unfortunate just then and there. This
being the case, it is perhaps not strange that the rasping processes
were so numerous that there was not time between them for healings.
Judge Erskine, on his part, made nearly as little progress. Being a man
of faultless grace and bearing, and being noted for fastidiousness,
made him pre-eminently susceptible to wounds in these directions.
Generally, he and Ruth maintained the strictest silence toward each
other concerning their trials, they having, by tacit consent, agreed
upon that as the safest course; but, occasionally, they were rasped
into comparing notes. In the hall one morning, where many of their
confidential conversations were held, during these days, her father
stopped her, with an almost petitioning question:

“Daughter, was it very trying, yesterday, when Mrs. Blakesley called?”

“As trying as it could be, sir,” Ruth answered, still smarting so much
under that recent infliction that she could not bring her voice to a
sympathetic tone. “Mrs. Blakesley, being a woman who hasn’t an ounce
of brains herself, has, as you may imagine, none to spare for other
people. Indeed, father, I sometimes feel as though this matter of
making and receiving calls was going to be too complicated a thing for
me. I never was fond of such duties, as you may remember, and now it is
absolute torture, long drawn out.”

“I know it,” he said, wincing, and growing paler under each stabbing
word from his daughter’s lips. “It was all folly, I am afraid. I
thought we would try to do just right; but I do not know but we would
have felt it less, and they been just as happy, if we had resolutely
closed our doors on society altogether, and borne this thing among
ourselves.”

What these two people needed was some strong voice to remind them how
many, and how much harder troubles life had, than they had been called
upon to bear. Despite Marion Dennis’ opinion, this is—or it should be—a
help. By comparison with other’s trials, we ought to be led to feel the
lesser nature of our own. Failing in that, it sometimes happens to us
to decide as to which of our _own_ trials has the heaviest hand.

“I don’t think that would have been possible,” Ruth answered, her tone
somewhat subdued, as it always was, by a realization of her father’s
deeper wound. “But, I wish with all my heart, I saw a way to escape
from some of this calling. There are hundreds, almost, yet to make, and
some of them more formidable than any that we have attempted; and the
list continues to swell every day.”

The father had no answer; he saw no way out. And yet a way was coming,
swiftly—one which would help them both out of this dilemma, at least.
It was the very next morning that Judge Erskine failed to appear
at the breakfast-table and his wife brought word that he was most
uncommon restless all night, and pretty fevery, and resisted all her
suggestions to give him a good sweat, or to drink any boneset-tea, or
even to soak his feet in mustard-water. Consequence was, he didn’t feel
able to raise his head from his pillow, and wouldn’t so much as let her
speak of any breakfast, though she _did_ tell over several things to
him, that she thought he might relish.

Ruth groaned inwardly, not so much at anxiety for her father—his
sicknesses were slight affairs soon over, and his most sovereign remedy
had hitherto been to be let alone. How, then, had he borne this fearful
infliction of sympathy and fertile suggestion?

But the sickness, whatever it was, did not pass away, as others had
done. Ruth visiting him, and seeing the fevered face and anxious
eyes, felt a nameless dread, and entreated that Dr. Bacon might at
once be summoned, being even more alarmed at the fact that her father
immediately acquiesced. Dr. Bacon was slow in coming, being a man much
sought after in his profession. But he was also unprecedentedly slow
in leaving, making a call, the length of which amazed Ruth and at
which she did not know whether to be alarmed or relieved. During its
continuance Judge Burnham stopped to inquire as to some law papers, and
also apparently to make a call, for he tarried after he found that he
could not accomplish his original errand, and was in the hall, in the
act of leaving, when the doctor came, with slow and thoughtful tread,
down-stairs. That gentleman caught at his familiar face, as if it were
a relief.

“Ah, good morning, Judge,” he said. “This is opportune. May I have a
word with you?”

And then he unceremoniously pushed open the library door, and both
gentlemen retired within, leaving Ruth perplexed, and perhaps a little
annoyed. The door closed upon them. Dr. Bacon was not long in making
known his thoughts:

“Judge, are you an intimate friend of this family?”

“Why,” said Judge Burnham, hesitating, and flushing a little over the
question, “I hardly know whether I may claim exceeding intimacy; the
Judge is not apt to have very intimate friends. Perhaps I come as near
it as anybody. Yes, I think I may say I am considered a friend—by
_him_, at least. Why, may I ask?”

“Because they need a friend—one who is not afraid of himself or his
feelings, and can help them plan, and perhaps execute.”

“What on earth do you mean? Is the Judge so very sick?”

“Well, as to that, he is likely to be sick enough—sicker, indeed, than
I care to have his daughter realize, just at present. But the _nature_
of the sickness is the trouble. It is a very marked case of a very
undesirable type of small-pox! Now, don’t back out of the nearest door,
and leave me in the lurch, for I depend on you.”

This last, as Judge Burnham uttered an exclamation of dismay, and
stepped backward. The sentence recalled his self-possession.

“Don’t be disturbed,” he said, and his tones were somewhat haughty. “I
have not the slightest intention of fleeing. I shall be glad to serve
him and his—his family, to the best of my ability. But what is there
for me to do? Is he aware of the situation?”

“Most decidedly so. I didn’t mince matters with him; he is not one
that will bear it; he knows all that I do, and is as clear-headed as
usual; he knows certain things that must _not_ be done. For instance,
his daughter Ruth is, on no account, to be allowed to put her head
inside the door. He was peremptory about that and must be obeyed,
though there is no earthly fear of infection for some days yet; but I
have given my word of honor that it shall be as he says. The trouble
is, they will be left in the lurch. There isn’t a small-pox nurse in
the city that I know of. I would have given fifty dollars an hour,
almost, for a good one last night, and, besides, the servants must be
informed, and they will leave to a man, or a woman. In books you are
always reading of heroic servants who are willing to take their lives
in their hands and stand by their mistresses through anything. I wish
I could find a few of them! I would promise them high wages. Well,
now, what you can do first, is to explain the state of affairs to Miss
Erskine. I would sooner try to explain to an iceberg, or a volcano—I am
never quite sure which she is. And then, if you have any wits, set them
to work to establish communication between this house and the outer
world. In other words, do what you can for them, _if_ you can. You know
better than I do whether you are on sufficient terms of intimacy to do
anything with her. The old lady must be told, I suppose, though Judge
Erskine didn’t mention her at all. Perhaps she will want to get out of
the house, somewhere, and very likely you can manage that. At least the
first thing of importance is to tell Miss Ruth. Will you do it?”

“Y-e-s,” said Judge Burnham, speaking slowly and hesitatingly. It was
by no means the sort of communication that he desired to make to her,
yet he felt an instant desire to stand by her, and, if disagreeable
tidings must be given, bear them himself, in whatever alleviating way
he might.

“Very well,” answered the doctor, promptly. He was spending a great
deal of time, on this case, and was getting in haste. “I ought to have
been off fifteen minutes ago, but Judge Erskine wanted all the affairs
of the nation arranged before I left. He knows what he wants, and, so
far as it is within the compass of human possibility, he intends to
have it. Will you see Miss Ruth at once, and do what planning you
can? Meantime, I will make one more dash for a nurse. No one is to go
up to Judge Erskine until I see him again. I fancy he wants to do some
thinking for himself. That is his peremptory order, and it will be
well enough to obey it. There is no sort of danger of infection now,
you understand, but he is quite as well off alone, for a little. Now,
I positively must go. I will look in on my way down the square, and
report further.”

And then the great doctor took himself off leaving Judge Burnham with
the worst case on his hands that had ever fallen to his professional
life. He walked slowly toward the door, but before he could pass out it
was pushed open by Ruth, her face white and frightened. “Judge Burnham
what has happened? what is the matter? is my father so very sick? and
why am I not to be allowed to go to him?”

“One thing at a time, dear friend,” he said, and his voice had a touch
of sympathy that could not have escaped her. “Your father is not
alarmingly sick, but the sickness is of such a nature that he will not
have you exposed to it even for a moment. It was his first thought.”
And then he pushed a chair forward and gently placed her in it, and sat
down beside her, telling her briefly, rapidly, in a half professional
manner, all he knew himself. He was a good student of human nature; his
success in his profession would have proved that, and he knew it was
the surest way to hold her self-controlled and ready for intelligent
thought. He had not misjudged her character. She neither cried out
nor fainted; she had been pale enough before, but her face whitened a
little and she covered her eyes with her hands for an instant. It was a
curious revelation to her of the strangeness of these human hearts of
ours, when she remembered afterward that, flashing along with the other
crowding thoughts as to what, and how, there came the swift memory of
the yesterday’s talk, and the instant realization of the fact that
they would have neither to make nor receive any more of those dreadful
calls, for some time, at least. Just a moment of hiding behind those
hands and then she was ready for action. “Judge Burnham, have you
thought what ought to be done first, and if you have, will you help
me? It makes it harder because my father will not let me come to him.
If we could talk together, if he would let me be his nurse, I could—”
and then she hesitated, and her lip began to quiver. She remembered
that her father was the one person whom she had to love.

“There is no use in talking about that,” Judge Burnham said, hastily;
“the doctor said he ought, by all means, to be humored in this matter;
that it would help to keep him calm, and thus hold the disease in
check; you should not have a thought of going to him. Some nurse can
surely be found; people will do anything for money. I suppose, Miss
Erskine, it will be necessary to tell the other members of the family?”

“Of course,” Ruth said, and she tried not to shiver, visibly, as she
thought of what Mrs. Erskine might say, and wondered whether she was
one of those women who were ignorantly and wildly afraid of infection,
and whether there would be a scene with her, and what Susan would
do, or say. Then she thought of the servants. “Hannah and Thomas and
the rest ought to be told, ought they not, Judge Burnham?” Then she
suddenly roused from her half-suppressed, appealing tones, and rising,
said, “How foolishly I am talking! This thing has startled me so. Of
course they must be told; and it should be done at once; I will take no
unfair advantage of them in any way. Yes, I will tell Mrs. Erskine and
my sister. Thank you, Judge Burnham.”

And that gentleman began to consider himself as almost dismissed from
her presence.

“What can I do for you, first?” he asked her, eagerly; “I am not one
of those who are afraid of anything, Miss Erskine; in mortal guise,
at least. I am going up to see your father, and since you can not go
yourself, you might make me your messenger, to say anything that you
would say, that you are willing to have me repeat.”

Her eyes brightened. “Thank you,” she said, “it is very pleasant to
feel that you do not want to desert us. But I will not trouble papa,
until I can tell him that we are arranged somehow, and that he need not
worry.”

She went down first to the kitchen regions and summoned the working
force, telling them in brief, clear language, what had fallen upon
the house, and offering them each two weeks’ wages in advance and good
characters. She was young and had not been put to many such tests. They
were not “servants in a book,” it appeared, for they every one, eagerly
caught at their liberty and were nervously anxious to get out of the
plague-stricken house, not even desiring to wait until Ruth could get
her pocket-book and make good her word. _They_ were young and ignorant,
and in the great outside world they had friends; life was dear to them.
Who shall blame them? And yet, I desire to say, just here, that it is
_not_ in books only that noble, self-sacrificing exceptions to this
form of selfishness are found; I have known kitchens that ought to have
glowed with the beauty of the strong, unselfish hearts beating there,
through danger, and trial, and harassing toil. It only happened that
Ruth Erskine had none of those about her, and, within half an hour
after the first word had reached them, she stood alone in her deserted
kitchen, trying to get her nerves quiet for the next, and, to her,
more trying ordeal. What would those new elements in the household
say? Was Mrs. Erskine given to hysteria, and would these startling
developments produce an attack? Would they want to get away from the
house? Could they be gotten away, quietly, to some safe place? Would
Susan be willing to go? How would _she_ take the news? Ruth puzzled
her brain some weary minutes in trying to decide just how they would
act, and whether she had courage to tell them, and whether it were not
altogether possible that Mrs. Erskine might be moved to make such an
outcry as should disturb the sick man, up-stairs. At last she gave over
the attempt to arrange their actions for them, and went to summon them
to the library, with an air of forced calmness and a determination to
have this worst feature of the side issues over, as soon as possible.



CHAPTER XII.

THE CROSS OF HELPLESSNESS.


“MY land alive!”

That was what Mrs. Erskine said, when Ruth told her the news. You may
have observed that those three words constituted a favorite expression
of hers—one which she was apt to use on all occasions, greatly to her
stepdaughter’s discomfiture. She winced under it now, it seemed so
ridiculously inappropriate to the disaster that had come into their
midst. While she was trying to impress the situation on the mother and
Susan, Dr. Bacon returned. He came directly into the library, as one
who had laid aside all the ceremonies of private life, and adopted
the business style. He hurried into the midst of the difficulties,
being one who, while capable of feeling the most intense and practical
sympathy for others, had never learned the art of expressing it other
than by actions.

“Miss Ruth, I am afraid it is going to be almost impossible to get a
proper nurse for your father. There is a good deal of this abominable
disease in the city, now, and the nurses are taxed to the utmost.
Ordinary nurses, you know, will not come, and would not do, anyway. So
we shall have to manage as well as we can, for a little, until I can
look around me and get somebody.”

Then Mrs. Erskine came to the front.

“What are you talking about—_nurses_? Who wants one of ’em? miserable,
half-awake creatures; not but what I’ve seen some good ones in my day,
but I could beat any of ’em, when it come to a real up-and-down case of
sickness; and I can nurse my own husband, you’ll find, better than the
best of ’em. I brought him back from death’s door once, and I will try
hard to do it again. A _nurse_ is the last kind of a creature that I
want to help me.”

“But, Mrs. Erskine, I ought not to conceal from you that this is going
to be a very decided case of small-pox. The chances of infection, to
one who nurses him, will be very great.”

“I can’t help _that_, you know,” she said, determinedly; “_I’ve_ got to
be with him, of course. Who would, if his wife wasn’t? I don’t believe
I’ll take it. I never was one of them kind that always took things.
I have the sick-headache, and that’s every blessed thing I do have,
except a touch of the rheumatism, now and then; but I never did have
a bit of headache, nor nothing, when there was any real sickness on
my hands. All the time Susan had the fever I sot up nights, or stood
up—a good deal of the time she was that sick that I didn’t set down;
I jest kept on the trot all night, doing one thing and another. But,
all the while, I never had an ache nor a pain about me; and, if I do
take it, I might as well as the next one. I ain’t a mite afraid of it;
not that I’d run into it any quicker than you would, but, when it runs
into your own house, and gets hold of your own flesh and blood, or your
husband—which is the next thing to that—why, then, I’m one of them
kind that has to be on hand. There’s no use talkin’—_I’m a going to
nurse him_, and all the doctor’s in the city can’t stop me.”

“I assure you, Mrs. Erskine, I haven’t the least desire to do so. On
the contrary, I appreciate your devotion.”

The doctor’s tone was earnest—his manner respectful. Mrs. Judge Erskine
had evidently risen several degrees in his esteem. She was not a piece
of putty, to be gotten out of the way in the least troublesome manner;
but a live and very energetic factor in this business. A woman who not
only was not afraid of small-pox, but could calmly insist on her right
to attend a very bad case of it, was deserving of all respect from
him; and he did not, in the least, care how many grammatical errors
she made in expressing her determination. In less time than it takes
me to tell you of it, the question of attendant on the sick man was
settled, and Mrs. Erskine installed as nurse by the relieved doctor,
to the satisfaction of all but Ruth. She thought, in dismay, of the
misery which her father would be called to endure. How was he, sick and
nervous—and she knew he could be fearfully nervous, when only a little
ill—to bear the strain of that woman’s tongue, when, in health, it was
more than he could endure? What would he say to the plan? Would he feel
that she might have shielded him from it? Yet how could _she_ help it?
and, indeed, what else could be done? She had been very nervous over
his being left alone. It had seemed to her that she must disregard his
positive command and go to him; and it had been such a source of relief
and comfort when Judge Burnham announced his intention of going, that
she felt she could never forget it. Certainly it would not do to leave
him without an attendant. Yet she could not be grateful to the wife for
proposing it.

“He can never endure it!” she murmured; and she looked her distress so
completely that the doctor was moved to soothe her, when he came back
from installing Mrs. Erskine, and giving her directions.

“It will do for a few days, my dear girl; or, at least, for a few
hours, until we can look about us, and secure professional assistance.
There is not the slightest danger of her taking the disease _now_, you
know; indeed, you might be with him yourself, only he is so nervous
about you that he will not listen to reason. But she will take good
care of him. I really think she understands how to do it.”

Ruth made no reply; she could not. She wanted to ask what her father
said, and whether he was likely to bear up under such an added weight
of misery as this last. But, reflecting that it would not do to say
anything of the kind, she took refuge in silence. And the work of
rearranging this disorganized and disordered household went on.

In an incredibly short space of time, considering all that had to
be planned and arranged, the doctor had done his share of it, given
explicit and peremptory directions as to what should, and what should
_not_ be done, and was gone. As for Judge Burnham, he had gone directly
from the sick-room to Judge Erskine’s office, on a matter of business
for the latter. So the two sisters were left alone in the library, to
stare at each other, or out into the street, as they chose.

Susan Erskine had been a very silent looker-on at this morning’s
confusion. Ruth could not tell what she thought. Beyond the first
exclamation of surprise, she had expressed no dismay. A little touch
of some feeling (what was it?) she had shown once, when her mother was
planning, and announcing that she did not intend to take the disease,
and, if she did, _she_ might as well as anyone.

“Oh, mother!” Susan had said, in a low, distressed tone—a tone full
of suppressed feeling of some sort—and her mother had turned on her
sharply, with a—

“Well, child, what?”

“Nothing,” Susan said, as one who had checked her sentence and was
holding herself silent. And thereafter she made no sign.

And so at last these two sisters were stranded in that deserted
library. Ruth, on her part, gazing blankly out of the window, watching
the hurrying passers-by with a curious sense of wonderment as to what
they would think could they know what was transpiring inside. Suddenly
she turned from the window with an exclamation of dismay—a thought,
which until now had dropped into the background, returned to her.

“There isn’t a servant in the house!”

“Why, what has become of them?”

“They fled at the very first mention of the trouble. Never was anything
accomplished more rapidly. I thought they had hardly time to reach
their rooms when they disappeared around the corner.”

“Is it possible!” Susan said, after a moment’s silent contemplation.
She was both surprised and disappointed. There was nothing in her
nature that could respond to that method of bearing one another’s
burdens, and she did not understand human nature well enough to expect
developments in others which were foreign to her own.

“What shall we do about dinner?” Ruth asked, after another interval of
silence.

“Why, get it,” Susan answered, lightly. She could not comprehend what
an impossible thing this was in Ruth’s estimation.

“But I—why, I know nothing about it,” Ruth said, stammering and aghast.

“I do. There is nothing about a dinner that I do not understand, I
believe—that is, a reasonable and respectable dinner. In fact, I
know how to do several things that are unreasonable. I’ll go right
down-stairs and take a view of the situation.”

“I will go with you,” Ruth said, heroically. “I don’t know anything
about such matters, but I can at least show you through the house.”

Is it your fortune to know, by experience, just what a deserted look
a kitchen can take on in a brief space of time, when the regular
inhabitants thereof have made a sudden exit? Just let the fire in the
range go down, with unswept ashes littering the hearth, and unwashed
dishes filling the tables, and a general smell of departed cookery
pervading the air, and you need no better picture of dismalness.
Especially is this the case if you survey the scene as Ruth did,
without being able to conceive how it was possible ever again to bring
order out of this confusion.

“Why, dear me!” said Susan, “things look as though they had stirred
them up to the best of their abilities before they left. Where is the
hearth-brush kept, Ruth?”

“I am sure I don’t know,” Ruth said, and she looked helpless and
bewildered.

“Well, then, I’ll look for it. We must have a fire the first thing. I
wonder where the kindlings are?”

Then she began to open little doors and crannies, in a wise sort of
way, Ruth looking on, not knowing that there were such places to search
into. Both hearth-brush and kindlings were found, and Susan attacked
the range, while Ruth took up a china cup and set it down again, moved
a pile of plates to the side of the table and moved them back again,
looking utterly dazed and useless.

“I wonder if this damper turns up or down?”

This from Susan, and her sister turned and surveyed the damper with a
grave, puzzled air before she spoke.

“It is no sort of use to ask me. I never even examined the range. I
know no more about the dampers than the people on the street do.”

“Never mind,” said Susan, “the smoke does. It puffs out with one
arrangement, and goes up the chimney, as it should, with the other.”

“I don’t know how we are ever to do it,” Ruth said.

“What, make the fire? Why, it is made already! Don’t you hear it roar?
This is a splendid range; I should think it would be fun to cook with
it. Our stove was cracked, and one door-hinge was broken, and besides
it wouldn’t bake on the bottom. The _stove_ wouldn’t, you know—not the
broken hinge.”

Susan rarely—indeed, I might say never—indulged in reminiscence, and
therefore Ruth was touched.

“Why did you keep yourselves so poorly provided for?” she asked, a
flush rising on her pale cheek. “I have heard your mother say that you
were well supplied with money.”

“We were. It was one of my mother’s whims, if you choose to call it
so. She was continually troubled with the feeling that some day she or
I, or—more often, I think—_father_, might need all the money she could
save; and I never combated the feeling, except when it intrenched too
closely on her own needs. She seemed fairly haunted with the thought.”

“How absurd!” said Ruth, and her lip curled.

As for Susan, _her_ lips opened, and then closed partly, and whatever
she would have uttered remains in oblivion. She closed the damper
energetically, and said:

“There, that is conquered! Now, what are we to have for dinner?”

“Why, I ordered roast lamb and its accompaniments,” Ruth said,
recalling her minute directions given to the skillful cook (she knew
how to _order_ dinners,) “but, of course, that is out of the question.”

“Why, not at all, if you would like it. I know exactly how to roast
lamb. But, then, who would eat it?”

“Why, Prof. Stevens and his friend are to dine with us. Oh, they must
be sent word not to come! How _can_ we send? Who is there to go?”

And Ruth, the complications of her situation pressing upon her in these
minor details, looked utterly dismayed.

“Why, Judge Burnham will be our errand-boy—he said so. I met him as
he came down-stairs, and he told me to say that he would call as soon
as he had attended to father’s commission, and serve us in any way
that we desired. We will have him first recall the invitation to our
guests, and then we will send him to the ‘butcher’s, the baker’s, and
the candlestick-maker’s.’ I shouldn’t be surprised if he proved a very
useful member of society.”

Susan was bent on being cheerful. “Things are not so bad but they might
have been worse,” she had said, almost as soon as she was told of the
trouble.

“Mother says he might have been taken sick down town, and if they had
known what the disease was they wouldn’t have allowed him to come home.
Think of that! But about the roast lamb,” she said. “Do you think you
and I could compass it, or shall we compel the errand-boy to stay and
divide the work with us?”

Then these two girls did what was perhaps the wisest thing for them to
do, under the circumstances. They laughed—a real _laugh_.

“Why not?” said Susan. “He is not very sick. The doctor said he didn’t
think he would be, because he would be well taken care of at the very
outset; and he will, you may be sure of that. Mother knows how, and her
heart is in it. You may trust her, Ruth, in a time of sickness. And
we shall manage nicely. This disconsolate kitchen shall take on new
features presently. If I were you I would go right up-stairs and be
ready to give Judge Burnham his orders when he comes. He is real good
and kind. I like him. He will help us in every way. And when you come
down again I will have things in train for a first-class dinner.”

A new anxiety occurred to Ruth.

“Do you know how to prepare food for sick people?” she asked.

“Indeed I do! The most appetizing little dishes that you can imagine.
I’ve always thought I had a special talent in that direction. We will
waylay the doctor the very next time he comes, and find out what he
will allow, and then I’ll cook it; and you must arrange it daintily
with silver, and china, and flowers, you know. They will let us have
all sorts of nice things up there for a while, and I think that is
the real secret of serving an invalid, having everything arranged
tastefully and gracefully.”

Ruth turned toward her sister with a very tender smile on her face.
She realized that there had been an effort to make her feel that she
was in a position to do an important service for her father, and the
thoughtfulness of the effort touched her.



CHAPTER XIII.

LOOKING FOR AN EASY YOKE.


WEARY days now in store for Ruth Erskine—far more weary and dispiriting
than she had imagined were possible to endure. It was such a strange
experience to stand at the window and watch passers-by, hurrying out
of the neighborhood of the plague-spotted house; crossing the street
at most inconvenient points, to avoid a nearer contact. It was so
strange to have day after day pass, and never hear the sound of the
door-bell—never see the face of a caller—never receive an invitation.
In short, it was a sudden shutting out of the world in which she had
always lived, and a shutting down into one narrow circle, which
repeated itself almost exactly every twenty-four hours. She and Susan
must needs be companions now, whether they would or not. They must sit
down together three times a day, at table, and go through the forms
of eating—not so repulsive a proceeding, by the way, as it had seemed
to Ruth it must of necessity be, with no one to serve. Susan had
reduced the matter to a system, and produced, as if by magic, the most
appetizing dishes, served in faultless style; and, when the strangeness
of sitting opposite each other, and having no one to look at or talk
to but themselves, began to wear away, they found it a not unpleasant
break in the day’s monotony to talk together while they waited on each
other.

Then there was the sick man’s food to prepare, and Susan exhausted
her skill, and Ruth contributed of her taste, in graceful adornings.
Judge Erskine still adhered to his resolution not to allow his daughter
to visit him; so all that could be done for his comfort must be
second-handed, but this little was a great relief to heart and brain.

Then there was Judge Burnham, a source of continual comfort. He seemed
to be the only one, of all the large circle of friends, who failed to
shun the stricken house. He was entirely free from fear, and came and
went at all hours, and on all possible errands—market-man, post-man,
errand-man in general, and unfailing friend. Not a day passed in which
he did not make half a dozen calls, and every evening found him an
inmate of the quiet parlor, with a new book, or poem, or, perhaps, only
a fresh bouquet of sweet-smelling blossoms, for the sisters. Apparently
his tokens of friendship and care were bestowed jointly on _the
sisters_—he not choosing between them by a hair-breadth.

Still despite all the alleviating circumstances, the way was weary,
and the time hung with increased heaviness on their hands—long hours
of daylight, in which there seemed to be nothing to settle to, and in
which there was as effectually nowhere to go, as if they were held in
by bolts and bars.

“If we were, either of us, fond of fancy work, I believe it would be
some relief,” Ruth said, wearily, one afternoon, as she closed her
book, after pronouncing it hopelessly dull. “Flossy Shipley could spend
days in making cunning little worsted dogs, with curly tails, and, if
there really were nothing else that she felt she ought to do, I believe
she could be quite happy in that!”

Susan laughed.

“One of us ought to have developed that talent, perhaps,” she said,
brightly. “I don’t know why you didn’t. As for myself, I never had the
time, and, if I had, the materials would have been beyond my purse. But
I like pretty things. I have really often wished that I knew how to
make some. You don’t know how to teach me, I suppose?”

“No, indeed; and, if I did, I’m afraid I shouldn’t do it. Nothing ever
seemed more utterly insipid to me, though, of course, I never planned
any such life as we are having now.”

“Look here,” Susan said, turning suddenly toward her sister, and
dropping the paper which she had been reading. “I have a pleasant
thought. We are almost tired of all sorts of books; but there is one
Book which never wears out. What if this time of absolute and enforced
leisure should have been given us in which to get better acquainted
with what it says? What if you and I should begin to study the Bible
together?”

Ruth looked gloomy.

“I don’t know much about the Bible,” she said; “and I don’t know how to
study it. I read a chapter every day, and, of course, I get some help
out of it; but I see so much that I don’t understand, and—well, to be
frank, so much that it seems to me strange should have been put into
the book at all, when necessarily a great deal that we would like to
know was left out, that it worries and disappoints me.”

She half expected to shock Susan, and looked toward her with determined
eyes, ready to sustain her position, in case an argument was produced.
But Susan only answered, with a quiet—

“I know; I used to feel very much in the same way, until I had a light
given me to go by, which shone upon some of the verses that had been so
dark before.”

There was no lighting up of Ruth’s face.

“I know what you mean,” she said, gravely “You mean that the Bible
was a new book to you after you were converted. I have heard a great
many people say that, but it doesn’t help me as much as you might
suppose it would. Of course it made a new book for _me_, because the
Bible was never anything to me at all, until I was converted. I have
passed years without looking into it; indeed, I may say I _never_ read
it. When I was a school-girl, I used to find extracts from it in my
parsing-book, and some of them seemed to me very lofty sentiments, and
several of them I committed to memory, because of the beauty of their
construction; but that was the extent of my acquaintance with the
book. One of the first things I noticed a Christian say, after I was
converted, was about the Bible—what a wonderful book it was to him, and
how, every time he read a verse, it opened a new idea. I thought it
would be that way with me; but it hasn’t been. I love the Bible; that
is, I love certain things which I find in it; but it doesn’t seem to me
as I thought it would. I can’t say that I love to study it; or, rather,
perhaps I might say I don’t know how to study it. I can memorize
verses, of course, and I do, somewhat, when I find one that pleases
me; but—well, I never told anyone about it, but it has disappointed me
a little.”

_Now_ she had shocked Susan; anyway, she felt sure of it. She had
lived long enough, even now, with this plain, quiet sister, to have
discovered that the Bible was a great fountain of help to her. She
would not be able to understand why it was not the same to Ruth.
Neither did Ruth understand it; and, though perhaps she did not realize
even this, it was an undertone of longing to get at the secret of
the difference between them which prompted her words. But Susan only
smiled, in a quiet, unsurprised way, and said:

“I understand you perfectly; I have been over the same ground.”

“But you are not there, now?”

“Oh, no, I am not.”

“And you learned to love the Bible by studying it?”

“Well, that was the means, of course; but my real help was the
revelation which God gave me of himself through the Spirit.”

No face could look blanker and gloomier than Ruth’s. She was silent
for a few minutes, then she commenced again, her voice having taken on
a certain dogged resoluteness of tone as one who thought, “I _will_ say
it.”

“I don’t know why I am talking in this way to you; it is not natural
for me to be communicative to any person; but I may as well tell you
that my religion has been a disappointment to me. It is not what I
thought it was. I expected to live such a different life from any
that I had lived before. I expected to be earnest, and successful,
and happy; and it seems to me that no way was ever more beset with
difficulties than mine has been. When I really wanted to do right,
and tried, I was apparently as powerless as though I didn’t care. I
expected to be unselfish, and I am just as selfish, so far as I can
see, as I ever was. I struggle with the feeling, and pray over it, but
it is there just the same. If for one half hour I succeed in overcoming
it, I find it present with me the next hour in stronger force than
before. It is all a disappointment. I knew the Christian life was a
warfare, but someway I expected more to it than there is; I expected
peace out of it, and I haven’t got it. I have had my seasons of
thinking the whole thing a delusion, so far as I was concerned; but I
can not believe that, because in some respects I feel a decided change.
I believe I belong to Christ; but I do so shrink from the struggles
and trials and disappointments of this world! I feel just as though I
wanted to shirk them all. Sometimes I think if He _only would_ take me
to heaven, where I could rest, I would be _so_ grateful and happy.”

The hardness had gone out of her face now, and the tears were dropping
silently on her closed book.

“Poor girl!” said Susan, tenderly. “Poor, tired heart. Don’t you think
that the Lord Jesus can rest you anywhere except by the way of the
grave? That is such a mistake, and I made it for so long that I know
all about it. Don’t you hear his voice calling to you to come and rest
in him this minute?”

“I don’t understand you. I _am_ resting in him. That is, I feel sure at
times. I feel sure now that he has prepared a place in heaven for me,
and will take me there as he says. But I am so tired of the road; I
want to drop out from it now and be at rest.”

“Haven’t you found his yoke easy and his burden light, then?”

“No, I haven’t. I know it is my own fault; but that doesn’t alter the
fact or relieve the weariness.”

“Then do you believe that he made a mistake when he said the yoke was
easy?”

Ruth arrested her tears to look up in wonder.

“Of course not,” she said, quickly. “I know it is owing to myself, but
I don’t know how to remedy it. There are those who find the statement
meets their experience, I don’t doubt, but it seems not to be for me.”

“But, if that is so, don’t you think he ought to have said, ‘Some of
you will find the burden light, but others of you will have to struggle
and flounder in the dark?’ You know he hasn’t qualified it at all. He
said, ‘Come unto me and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you,
for it is light.’ And he said it to all who are ‘heavy laden.’”

“Well,” said Ruth, after a thoughtful pause, “I suppose that means his
promise to save the soul eternally. I believe he has done that for me.”

“But is that all he is able or willing to do? If he can save the soul
eternally can not he give it peace and rest here?”

“Why, of course he could, if it were his will; but I don’t know that he
has ever promised to do so.”

“Don’t you? Do you suppose he who hates sin has made us so that we can
not keep from constantly grieving him by falling into sin, and has
promised us no help from the burden until we get to heaven? I don’t
think that would be entire salvation.”

“What _do_ you mean?” Ruth asked, turning a full, wondering gaze on
her sister. “You surely don’t believe that people are perfect in this
world?”

“Pass that thought, just now, will you? Let me illustrate what I mean.
I found my besetting sin to be to yield to constant fits of ill-temper.
It took almost nothing to rouse me, and the more I struggled and tossed
about in my effort to _grow_ better the worse it seemed to me I became.
If I was to depend on progressive goodness, as I supposed, when was I
to begin to grow _toward_ a better state; and when I succeeded should
I not really have accomplished my own rescue from sin? It troubled and
tormented me, and I did not gain until I discovered that there were
certain promises which, with conditions, meant me. For instance, there
was one person who, when I came in contact with her, invariably made
me angry. For months I never held a conversation with her that I did
not say words which seemed to me afterward to be very sinful, and which
angered her. This after I had prayed and struggled for self-control.
One day I came across the promise, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’
Sufficient for what? I asked, and I stopped before the words as if they
had just been revealed. I found it to be unlimited as to quantity or
time. It did not say, ‘After you have done the best you can—struggled
for years and gained a little—then my grace shall be sufficient.’
It did not say, ‘My grace is sufficient for the great and trying
experiences of this life, but not for the little every-day annoyances
and trials which tempt you—you must look out for yourself.’ It was
just an unlimited promise—‘My grace is sufficient—not for my saints,
for those who have been faithful and successful, but for _thee_.’
Having made that discovery, and felt my need, I assure you I was not
long in claiming my rights. Now, I want to ask you what that promise
means?”

“‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’” Ruth repeated, slowly,
thoughtfully. Then she paused, while Susan waited for the answer, which
came presently, low-toned and wondering.

“I’m sure I don’t know. I read the verse only yesterday, but it didn’t
occur to me that it had any reference to _me_. I don’t know what I
thought about it.”

“But what does it seem to you that it says? Christ meant something by
it, of course. What was it?”

“I don’t know,” she said again, thoughtfully. “That is, why it _can’t_
mean what it appears to, for then there would be nothing left to
struggle about.”

“Well, has Christ ever told you to struggle? On the contrary, hasn’t he
told you to rest?”

“It seems to me,” said Ruth, after revolving that thought, or some
other, in silence for several minutes—“it seems to me that one who
thought as you do about these things would be claiming perfection; and
if there is one doctrine above another that I despise it is just that.
I know one woman who is always talking about it, and claiming that she
hasn’t sinned in so many months, and all that nonsense; and really she
is the most disagreeable woman I ever met in my life.”

“Look here,” said Susan. “Do you rely on the Lord Jesus for salvation?
That is, do you believe you are a sinner, and could do nothing for
yourself, and he just had to come and do it for you, and present your
claim to Heaven through himself?”

“Why, of course there is no other way. I _know_ that I am a sinner; and
I know it is wonderful in him to have been willing to save me; but he
has.”

“Well, now, aren’t you afraid to claim that, for fear people will think
that you saved yourself?”

“I don’t understand,” Ruth said, gravely.

“Don’t you? Why, you fear to claim Christ’s promise to you—that his
grace is _now_ sufficient for every demand that you choose to make on
it—for fear people will think you consider yourself perfect. Why should
they not, just as readily, think that because you relied on Christ for
final salvation therefore you relied on yourself?”

“That is a foolish contradiction.”

“Yes; isn’t the other?”

“I never heard anybody talk as you do,” was Ruth’s answer.

“I haven’t a different Bible from yours,” Susan said, smiling. “You
admit to me that the promise about which we are talking is in yours,
and you read it yesterday. What I wonder is, what you think it means.”



CHAPTER XIV.

“THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY.”


THE last was but the beginning of many talks which those two sisters
held together concerning the meaning of the promises which Christ had
made to his children. During the time Ruth received and accepted some
new ideas; but it must be admitted that it was her intellect which
accepted them, rather than her heart. She acknowledged that the Lord
had plainly said his grace was sufficient for them, and that, having
been tempted, he was able to succor those who were tempted; and that
there should no temptation take his children except such as they were
able to bear, because the faithful God would provide a way of escape.
All these, I say, she admitted; they were plainly written in his word
and _must_ mean what they said. Still she went on, being tempted and
yielding to the temptation, struggling against the gloom and unrest
of her lot—struggling fiercely against the providence which had come
between her and the Father, whom she began to realize she had worshiped
rather than loved—struggling, fighting, baffled, wounded, defeated—only
to rise up and struggle afresh, all the while admitting with her clear
brain-power that he said: “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.” Why
did she not have the strength? She dimly questioned with herself,
occasionally, the why; she even deemed herself ill-treated because none
of the promised strength came to her; but she passed over the searching
question of the Lord to his waiting suppliant: “_Believe_ ye that I am
able to do this?” Had the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Ruth in bodily
presence and asked her this question she realized afterward that she
would have been obliged to answer: “Oh, no, I don’t. You say you are
able, and you say you are willing, and I believe that the words are
yours, and that you have all power in heaven and earth, and yet—and
yet—I _don’t_ believe that you will do it for me.” To such strange and
unaccountable depths of absurdity does unbelief lead us!

At last there came a day when Susan and she could not talk calmly
about these things or any other—could not talk at all—could only weep,
and wait, and kneel and dumbly pray, and then wait again, while life
and death struggled fiercely together for the victim up-stairs, and
it seemed that death would be the victor. Many days passed, and the
dead-weight of enforced endurance still held Ruth a prisoner, and still
she rebelled against the providence that had hemmed her in and shut
her away from her father; still she rebelled at the thought of the
nurse who bent over him in tireless watch, long before all attempts at
securing outside help had been abandoned, Dr. Bacon having expressed
himself more than satisfied.

“Never a better nurse took hold of a case,” he said, emphatically, to
Ruth. “If your father recovers, and I can not help feeling hopeful, he
will owe it more to her care than to any other human effort. She seems
to know by instinct what and when and how, and I believe the woman
never sleeps at all. She is just as alert and active and determined
to-day as she was the first hour she went into his room, and the
vigil has been long and sharp. I tell you what, Miss Ruth, you begin
to understand, don’t you what this woman was raised up for? She was
planned for just such a time as this. No money would have bought such
nursing, and it has been a case in which nursing was two-thirds of it.
She ought to be a _professional_ nurse this minute. Shall I find a
place for her when her services are not needed here in that capacity
any longer? She could command grand wages.”

The well-meaning doctor had essayed to bring a smile to Ruth’s wan
face; but it was made evident to him that he understood disease better
than he did human nature—at least the sort of human nature of which she
was composed. She drew herself up proudly, and her tone was unusually
and unnecessarily haughty as she said:

“You forget, Dr. Bacon, that you are speaking of _Mrs. Erskine_.”

Then the doctor shrugged his shoulders, and, with a half-muttered “I
beg pardon,” turned away.

“More of an iceberg than ever,” he muttered, a little louder, as he
went down the hall. “I don’t know what Burnham is about, I am sure. I
hope it is the other one he means.”

And then he slammed the door a little. He had left Ruth in a rage
with him and with events and with her own heart. She resented his
familiarity with the name which that woman bore, and she resented
the fact that she bore the name. She was bitterly jealous of Mrs.
Erskine’s position by that sick-bed. She did not believe in her nursing
abilities. She knew she was fussy and officious and ignorant, three
things that were horrible in a nurse. She knew her father must be a
daily sufferer because of this. She by no means saw “what that woman
was raised up for,” or why she should have been permitted to come in
contact with _her_. Every day she chafed more under it, and the process
made her grow hard and cold and silent to the woman’s daughter. So by
degrees the burden grew heavier, and Susan, feeling that no word of
hers could help, maintained at last a tender, patient silence, that to
Ruth’s sore, angered heart was in itself almost an added sting.

It was in this spirit that they drew near to the hour when the question
of life and death would be determined. Ruth’s heart seemed like to
burst with the conflict raging in it—sorrow, anxiety, despair—she knew
not what to call the burden, but she knew it was a _burden_. She spent
hours in her own room, resenting all interruptions, resenting every
call from Susan to come down and take a little nourishment; even almost
disposed to resent the bulletins for which she waited breathlessly
as they were from time to time spoken through the keyhole in Susan’s
low-toned voice. “He is no worse than he was half an hour ago, Ruth;”
or, “The doctor thinks there must be a change before night;” or, “Dear
Ruth, he murmured your name a little while ago the doctor said.”

Presently Ruth came out of her room and down to the library—came toward
Susan sitting in the little rocker with her Bible in her lap, and said,
speaking in a low tone so full of pent-up energy that in itself it was
startling:

“Susan, if you know how to pray at all, kneel down now and pray for
_him_—I can’t. I have been trying for hours, and have forgotten how to
pray.”

Without a word of reply Susan arose quickly and dropped on her knees,
Ruth kneeling beside her, and then the words of prayer which filled
that room indicated that one heart, at least, knew how to pray, and
felt the presence of the Comforter pervading her soul. Long they knelt
there, unwilling, it seemed, to rise, even after the audible prayer
ceased. And it was thus that Judge Burnham found them, as with light,
quick steps he crossed the hall in search of them, saying, as he
entered:

“Courage, dear friends, the doctor believes that there is strong reason
now for hope.”

The crisis passed, Judge Erskine rallied rapidly, much more rapidly
than those who had watched over him in the violence of his sickness had
deemed possible. And it came to pass that, after a few more tedious
days of waiting, his room was opened once more to the presence of his
daughter. Fully as she had supposed that she realized his illness, she
was unprepared for the change which it had wrought, and could hardly
suppress a cry of dismay as she bent over him. Long afterward she
wondered at herself as she recalled the fact that her first startled
rebellious thought had been that there was not such a striking contrast
now between him and his wife.

There was another disappointment in store for her. She had looked
forward to the time when she might reign in that sick-room—might become
her father’s sole nurse in his convalescence, and succeed in banishing
from his presence that which must have become so unendurable. She
discovered that it was a difficult thing to banish a wife from her
husband’s sick-room. Mrs. Erskine was, apparently, serenely unconscious
that her presence was undesired by Ruth. She came and went freely; was
cheery and loquacious, as usual; discoursed on the dangers through
which Judge Erskine had passed, and reiterated the fact that it was a
mercy she didn’t take the disease, until, actually, Ruth was unable
to feel that even this was a mercy! There was a bitterer side to it.
Her father had changed in more ways than one. It appeared that his
daughter’s unavailing grief for him, in becoming the victim of such
a nurse, was all wasted pity. He had not felt it an infliction. His
voice had taken a gentle tone, in which there was almost tenderness,
when he spoke to her. His eyes followed her movements with an
unmistakable air of restfulness. He smiled on his daughter; but he
asked his wife to raise his head and arrange his pillow. How was this
to be accounted for? How could a few short weeks so change his feelings
and tastes?

“She _is_ a born nurse,” Ruth admitted, looking on, and watching the
cheery skill with which she made all things comfortable. “Who would
have supposed that she could be other than fussy? Well, all persons
have their mission. If she could have filled the place of a good,
cheerful, hospital nurse, how I should have liked her, and how grateful
I should feel to her now!” And then she shuddered over the feeling
that she did not now feel toward her an atom of gratitude! She looked
forward to a moment when she could be left alone with her father. Of
course he was grateful to this woman. His nature was higher than hers.
Beside, he knew what she had done, and borne for him, here in this
sick-room. Of course he felt it, and was so thoroughly a gentleman
that he would show her, by look and action, that he appreciated it;
but, could his daughter once have him to herself for a little while,
what a relief and comfort it would doubtless be to him. Even over this
thought she chafed. If this woman _only_ held the position in the house
which would make it proper for her to say, “You may leave us alone
now, for awhile. My father and I wish to talk; I will ring when you
are needed”—with what gracious and grateful smiles she could have said
those words! As it was, she planned.

“Don’t you think it would be well for you to go to another room, and
try to get some rest?”

“Yes,” said Judge Erskine, turning his head, and looking earnestly at
her; “if any human being ever needed rest, away from this scene of
confusion, I think you must.”

“Bless your heart, child” (with a good-natured little laugh)! “I’ve
rested ever so much. When you get used to it, you can sleep standing
up, with a bowl of gruel in one hand, and a bottle of hot water in
the other, ready for action. Just as soon as the anxiety was off, I
got rest; and, while I was anxious, you know, I lived on that—does
about as well as sleep for keeping up strength; I guess you tried it
yourself, by the looks of your white cheeks and great big eyes! Land
alive! I never see them look so big; did you, Judge? But Susan says
you behaved like a soldier. Well, I knew you would. I says, to myself,
says I, ‘She is made of the stuff that will bear it, and do her best;’
and it give me strength to do my best for your pa, ’cause I knew you
was depending on me. Says I, ‘I’ve got two sides to this responsibility
now; there’s the Judge, lying helpless, and knowing that every single
thing that’s done for him, for the next month or so, must come through
me; and there’s his daughter down-stairs, trusting to me to bring him
through;’ and I did my level best.”

And then Ruth shuddered. It was impossible for her to feel anything but
repulsion.

At last Susan—wise-hearted Susan—came to her rescue. She had imperative
need for “mother” in the kitchen, for a few minutes. Ruth watched
eagerly, as she waddled away, until the door closed after her, then
turned with hungry eyes toward her father, ready to pour out her
pent-up soul, as she never had done before. His eyes were turned toward
the door, and he said, as the retreating footsteps were lost to them:

“If you have joy in your heart, daughter—as I know you have—for the
restoration of your father, you owe it, under God, to that woman. I
never even imagined anything like the utter self-abnegation that she
showed. Disease, in its most repulsive, most loathsome form, held me
in its grasp, until I know well I looked less like a human being than
I did like some hideous wild animal. Why, I have seen even the doctor
start back, overcome, for a moment, by the sight! But she never started
back, nor faltered, in her patient, persistent, tender care, through it
all. We both owe her our gratitude and our love, my daughter.”

Do you know Ruth well enough to understand that she poured out no
pent-up tide of tenderness upon her father, after that? She retired
into her old silent self, to such a degree that the father looked at
her wonderingly, at first, then half wearily, and turned his head and
closed his eyes, that he might rest, since she had nothing to say to
him.

It was two or three days afterward that she tried again. In the
meantime, she had chided herself sharply for her folly. Why had she
allowed herself to be so cold—so apparently heartless—when her heart
was so full of love? Was she really so demoralized, she asked herself,
that she would have her father other than grateful for the care which
had been bestowed? Of _course_ he was grateful, and of course he
desired to show it, as any noble nature should. After all, what had he
said but that they both owed her a debt of gratitude and love?

“So we do,” said Ruth, sturdily. “I should love a dog who had been kind
to him.” And then she suppressed an almost groan over the startling
thought that, if this woman had been _only a dog_, she could have loved!

But she was left alone with her father again. He had advanced to the
sitting-up stage, and she was to sit with him and amuse him, while Mrs.
Erskine attended to some outside matter, Ruth neither knew nor cared
what, so that she went away. She was tender and thoughtful, shading
her father’s weakened eyes from the light, picking up his dropped
handkerchief, doing a dozen little nothings for him, and occasionally
speaking some tender word. He was not disposed to talk much beyond
asking a few general questions as to what had transpired during his
absence from the world. Then, presently, he broke an interval of
silence, during which he had sat with closed eyes, by asking:

“Where is Susan?”

“Susan!” his daughter repeated, half startled. “Why, she is in the
kitchen, I presume; she generally is, at this hour of the morning. She
has had to be housekeeper and cook and I hardly know what not, during
these queer days. She has filled all the posts splendidly! I don’t know
what you would have eaten but for her.”

Here Ruth paused a moment, to be gratified over her own advance in
goodness. At least she could speak freely, and in praise of Susan. Then
she said:

“Do you want anything, father, that Susan can get for you?”

He unclosed his eyes, and looked at her with a full, meaning smile, as
he said, slowly:

“I was not thinking of _that_ Susan, my dear; I meant my wife. You may
call her, if you will; I feel somewhat tired, and she knows just how to
fix me for rest.”

Imagine Ruth Erskine going down the hall, down the stairs, through
the library, out through the back hall, away to the linen-closet, and
saying, to Mrs. Judge Erskine, in a low tone:

“Father wants you, ma’am!”

“Bless his heart!” said Mrs. Erskine, dropping the pile of fresh linen
she was fumbling in. “I hope he hasn’t been fretty ’cause I staid so
long!”

Then she fled up the stairs.

Well, you are not very well versed in the knowledge of the depths of
the human heart, if you need to be told that this last experience was
the bitterest drop in Ruth’s cup of trouble. Hitherto it had been her
father and herself, bearing together a common trial. Now she felt
that, someway, she had lost her father, and gained nothing—rather,
_lost_—that she had sunken in her own estimation, and that she was
alone!



CHAPTER XV.

RESTS.


IT took some time for the Erskines to find their way back into the
world—rather it took the world many weeks to be willing to receive
them. What was reasonable caution at first became not only annoying
but ludicrous, as the weeks went by, and common-sense suggested that
all possibility of danger from contact with them was past; there were
those who _could not_ believe that it would ever be safe to call on
them again. Ruth, on her part did not worry over this, but suggested,
coldly, that it would be an almost infinite relief if two-thirds of
their calling acquaintances would continue frightened for the rest of
their lives.

In the domestic world it made more trouble. Servants—an army of
them—who were marshaled to and from intelligence offices, looked
askance at the doors and windows, as if they half expected the demon of
small-pox to take visible shape and pounce upon them, and it was found
to be only the worst and most hopeless characters who had ventured into
doubtful quarters, so that for days Susan was engaged in well-managed
skirmishes between girls who professed everything and knew nothing.

Ruth had long before retired, vanquished from this portion of the
field, and agreed that her forte did not lie in that direction. “I
haven’t the least idea where it lies,” she said aloud, and gloomily.
But she was in her own room, and the door was locked, and there was
no other listener than the window-light, against which her brown head
wearily leaned. She had not yet reached the point where she was willing
to confess her disappointment at life to anybody else, but in truth
it seemed that the world was too small for her. She was not needed
at home, nor elsewhere, so far as she could see. Her father, as he
relapsed into old duties, did not seek his former confidential footing
with her; indeed, he seemed rather to avoid it, as one who might fear
lest his own peace would be shaken. So Ruth thought at first, but one
little private talk with him had dispelled the probability of that.

“I want to tell you something, daughter,” he had said to her when
they were left alone in the library, the first day of his return to
office-life. “At least I owe it to you to tell you something. I waited
until I had really gotten back into the work-a-day world again, because
of a half recognized fear which I see now was cowardly and faithless,
that old scenes would recall old feelings. I had an experience, my
daughter, during those first few days when the Lord shut me out from
you all. My Christian faith did not sustain me as it ought to have
done. I mean by that, that it was not the sort of faith which it ought
to have been. I rebelled at the fierceness of the fire in which I
had been placed. I felt that I could not bear it; that it was cruel
and bitter. Most of all, I rebelled at the presence of my wife. I
felt that it was too much to be shut away from everything that life
holds dear, and to be shut up with that which had hitherto made life
miserable. I can not tell you of the struggle, of the hopeless beatings
of my bruised head against the bars of its cage. It almost unmans me
even to think of those hours.” And Judge Erskine paused and wiped the
perspiration from his forehead. “I will just hurry over the details,”
he said at last. “There came an hour when I began to dimly comprehend
that my Redeemer was only answering some of the agonizing prayers that
I had of late been constantly putting up to him. I had prayed, Ruth,
for strength to do my whole duty, and in order to do it I plainly
saw that I must feel differently from what I had been feeling; that
I must get over this shrinking from a relation which I deliberately
brought upon myself, and one which I was bound, by solemn covenant, to
sustain. I must have help; I must submit, not only, but I must learn
to be pitiful toward, and patient with, and yet how _could_ I? Christ
showed me how. He let me see such a revelation of my own selfishness,
and hardness, and pride, as made me abhor myself in ‘dust and ashes,’
and then he let me see such a revelation of human patience, and
tenderness, and self-abnegation, as filled me with gratitude and
respect. Ruth, he has given me much more than I asked. I prayed for
patience and tenderness and he gave me not only those, but such a
feeling of respect for one who could so entirely forget herself, and do
for another what my wife did for me, that I feel able to cherish her
all the rest of my life. In short, daughter, I feel that I could take
even the vows of the marriage-covenant upon my lips now, and mean them
in all simplicity and singleness of heart. And having taken them long
ago I ratify them now, and mean to live by them as long as life lasts
to us both, so help me God. In all this I do not forget the sin, nor
the suffering which that sin has entailed upon you, my dear, precious
daughter, but I feel that I must do what I can to atone for it, and
that shirking my duty, as I have been doing in the past, does not help
you to bear your part. I know you have forgiven me, Ruth, and I know
that God has. He has done more than that. In his infinite love and
compassion he has made the cross a comfort. And now, daughter, I never
wish to speak of this matter again. You asked me, once, if I wished
you to call her mother. I have no desire to force your lips to what
they do not mean, nor to oblige you to bear any more cross for your
father, than the sin has, in itself, laid upon you, but if, at any time
in your future life, you feel that you care to say, ‘Mother,’ it will
be a pleasant sound to my ears.”

Ruth reflected, afterward, with a sense of thankfulness, that she had
grace enough left to bend forward and kiss her father’s white forehead,
and pass her hand tenderly over the moist locks of gray hair above his
temples. Then she went out and went away. She could have spoken no word
just then. She was struggling with two conflicting feelings. In her
soul she was glad for her father; that he had got help, and that his
heavy cross was growing into peace. But all the same—she felt now, and
felt with a dull aching at her heart which refused to be comforted,
that she herself had not found peace in it; that it was, if anything,
more bitter than ever, and that she had lost her father. Is it any
wonder that life to her stretched out gloomily?

Many changes had taken place during their enforced exile from the
world. Eurie Mitchell had married and gone, and Flossy Shipley had
married and gone, both of them to new homes and new friends, and both
of them had, by their departure, made great gulfs in Ruth’s life. They
had written her characteristic notes along with their wedding cards.
Eurie’s ran thus:

    “_Dear Ruth_—I fancy you bearing it like a martyr,
    as I know you can. I always said you would make
    a magnificent martyr, but I am so sorry that the
    experiment has come in such a shape that we can’t look
    on and watch its becomingness. Also, I am very sorry
    that you can not be present to see me ‘stand up in the
    great big church without any bonnet!’ which is the way
    in which our baby characterizes the ceremony. In fact,
    I am almost as sorry about that as I am that father
    should have been out of town during the first few days
    of Judge Erskine’s illness, and so given that Dr.
    Bacon a chance to be installed. Father doesn’t happen
    to agree with him on some points, and the care of
    small-pox patients is one thing in which they totally
    differ. However, your father is going on finely, so
    far, I hear, and you know, my dear, that Dr. Bacon
    _is very_ celebrated; so be as brave as you can and it
    will all come out right, I dare say. In fact we _know_
    it will. Isn’t that a comfort? There are ever so many
    things that I might say if I could, but you know I was
    never able to put my heart on paper. So imagine some
    of the heart-thoughts which beat for you, while I sign
    myself for the last time,

                                     “EURIE MITCHELL.”

Ruth laughed over this note. “It is so exactly like her,” she murmured.
“I wonder if she will ever tone down?”

Flossy’s was smaller, daintier, delicately perfumed with the faintest
touch of violets, and read:

    “_Dear, Precious Friend_—‘The eternal God is thy
    refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ How
    safe you are! ‘Oh, thou afflicted, tossed with tempest
    and not comforted! Behold, I will lay thy stones with
    fair colors; with everlasting kindness will I have
    mercy on thee, saith the Lord, thy Redeemer.’ Blessed
    Jesus, do for Ruth ‘As thou hast said.’ This is Flossy
    Shipley’s prayer for her dear friend, whom she will
    love and cherish forever.”

Over this note Ruth shed hot tears. She was touched and comforted and
saddened; she realized more than ever before what a spiritual loss
Flossy’s going was to be to her, and she did not come closer to the One
who would have made amends for all losses.

Perhaps she had never felt the dreariness of her existence more than
she did on a certain evening, some weeks after the household had
settled into its accustomed routine of life, which was like and yet
utterly unlike what that life had been before the invasion of disease.

It was dark outside, and the rain was falling heavily; there was little
chance of relief from monotony by the arrival of guests. Ruth wandered
aimlessly through the library in search of a book that she felt willing
to read, and, finding none, turned at last to the sitting-room, where
Judge Erskine and his wife were sitting. Secure in the prospect of
rain, and therefore seclusion, he had arrayed himself in dressing-gown
and slippers, and was resting his scarred, seamed face among the
cushions of the easy-chair, enjoying a luxury, which was none other
than that of having his gray hair carefully and steadily brushed, the
brush passing with the regularity of a sentinel on its slow, soothing
track, guided by his wife’s hand, while Judge Erskine’s face bore
unmistakable signs of reposeful rest. There was that in the scene which
irritated Ruth almost beyond control. She passed quickly through the
room, into the most remote corner of the alcove, which was curtained
off from the main room, and afforded a retreat for the piano, and a
pretext for any one who desired to use it and be alone. It was not
that _she_ had ever waited thus upon her father; she had never thought
of approaching him in this familiar way. Even had she dared to do so,
their make-up was, after all, so utterly dissimilar that, what was
evidently a sedative to him, would have driven his daughter fairly
wild. To have any one, however dear and familiar, touch her hair,
draw a brush through it, would have irritated her nerves in her best
days. She thought of it then, as she sat down in the first seat that
she reached, after the friendly crimson curtains hid her from those
two—sat with her chin resting in her two listless hands, and tried to
wonder what she should do if she were forced to lie among the cushions
of that easy-chair in there, and have _that_ woman brush her hair.

“I should choke her, I know I should!” she said, with sudden
fierceness; and then, with scarcely less fierceness of tone and manner
added: “I hope it will never be my awful fate to have to be taken care
of by her, or to have to endure the sight of her presence about any one
I love. Oh, what is the matter with me! I grow wicked every hour. What
_will_ become of me?”

After all, there were those who were not afraid of the rain, and were
not to be kept from their purposes by it. Ruth listened indifferently
at first, then with a touch of eagerness, to the sound of the bell,
and the tones in the hall, and then to the sound of Judge Burnham’s
step as he was being shown to the sitting-room. The new help had been
in the house just long enough to discover that he was a privileged and
unceremonious guest.

“Ah!” he said, pausing in the doorway “Am I disturbing? Sick to-night,
Judge?”

“Come in,” said Judge Erskine’s hearty voice. “No, I am not sick, only
dreadfully lazy and being petted. When I was a boy, and mother used
to brush my hair, nothing soothed and rested me so much, and I find I
haven’t lost the old habit. Have a chair, and tell us the evening news.
I haven’t been out of the house since dinner.”

“Nothing specially new,” said Judge Burnham, dropping into an
easy-chair and looking around him inquiringly. “Where are the ladies?”

“Why,” said Mrs. Erskine, brushing away steadily, “Susan is in the
kitchen; she mostly is these days. Such a time as we are having with
servants; I wonder she don’t get sick of the whole set and tell them
to tramp. Just now, though, she has got hold of one who seems willing
enough to learn; and Susan heard her pa say this noon that he believed
he would like some muffins once more, so she is down there trying to
teach Mollie about setting muffins, and beating of it into her to let
them alone in the morning till _she_ gets down to ’tend to them.”

“Why,” said Judge Erskine, in a tone of tenderness that jarred Ruth’s
ears, “I wonder if she is attending to that? What a child she is! She
will wear herself out waiting on me.”

“There ain’t a selfish streak about her,” Mrs. Erskine said,
complacently “nor never was. But la! you needn’t fret about her,
Judge; she loves to do it. She went down in the first place to ’tend
to that, but she has got another string to her bow now; she found out
that Mollie didn’t know how to read writing, and had a letter from her
mother that she couldn’t make out, so Susan read it to her, and the
next thing was to write her an answer, and she is at that now.”

“And where is Miss Ruth?” questioned Judge Burnham, the instant this
long sentence was concluded.

“Why, she is moping—that’s the best name I know for it. She is back
there in the alcove. I thought she went to play, but she hasn’t played
a note. That child needs a change. I’m just that worried about her that
her white face haunts me nights when I’m trying to sleep. She has
had an awful hard siege; her pa so sick, and she obliged to keep away
from him, and not being sure whether I knew more than a turnip about
taking care of him—I wonder how she stood it. And I’m just afraid she
will break down yet. She needs something to rest her up and give her
some color in her cheeks. I keep telling her pa that he ought to do
something.”

“Suppose I go and help her mope,” Judge Burnham said, rising in the
midst of a flow of words, and speedily making his way behind the red
curtains.

He came over to Ruth, holding out both hands to greet her.

“How do you do?” he said, and there was tender inquiry in the tone.
“You didn’t know I was in town, did you? I came two days sooner than I
had hoped.”

“I didn’t know you were out of town,” said Ruth. “I thought you had
deserted us like the rest of our friends.”

“So you didn’t get my note?” he asked, looking blank. “Well, never
mind; it was merely an explanation of an absence which I hoped you
might notice. Mrs. Erskine says you are moping, Ruth. Is it true? She
says you need a change and something to rest you up. I wish you would
let me give you a change. Don’t you think you could?”

“A change!” Ruth repeated, with a little laugh, and there was color
enough in her cheeks just then.

“Why should _I_ need a change? What do you mean?”

“I mean a great deal. I want to give you such a change as will affect
all your future life and mine. I would like to have you change name
and home. Oh, Ruth, I would like to devote my life to the business of
‘resting you up.’ Don’t you believe I can do it?”

Now, I am sure there is no need for me to give you Ruth Erskine’s
answer. You probably understand what it was. Unless I am mistaken, you
understand her better than she did herself. Up to this very moment she
actually had not realized what made up the bulk of her unrest this
week. No, not the bulk either; there were graver questions even than
this one which might well disturb her, but she had not understood her
own footing with Judge Burnham, nor had scarcely a conception of his
feelings toward her.

The low murmur of talk went on, after a little, behind the red
curtains, and continued long after Judge Erskine and his wife went
up-stairs. Just as he was turning out the gas in their dressing-room,
that gentleman said:

“Unless I am mistaken, Judge Burnham would like to give Ruth a decided
change.”

“Land alive!” said Mrs. Erskine, taking in his meaning, after a little,
“I declare, now you speak of it, I shouldn’t wonder if he did.” Then
she added, kindly, genuinely: “And I’m sure I hope it’s true; I tell
you that child needs resting up.”



CHAPTER XVI.

SHADOWED JOYS.


ONE of the first experiences connected with Ruth’s new life was a
surprise and a trial. She did not act in the matter as almost any other
young lady would have done. Indeed, perhaps, you do not need to be
told that it was not her _nature_ to act as most others would in like
circumstances. She kept the story an entire secret with her own heart.
Not even her father suspected that matters were settled; perhaps,
though, this last is to be accounted for by the fact that Judge Burnham
went away, again on business, by the early train the morning after
he had arranged for Ruth’s change of home and name, and did not
return again for a week. During that week, as I say, Ruth hugged her
new joy and kept her own counsel. Yet it was _joy_. Her heart was in
this matter. Strangely enough it had been a surprise to her. She had
understood Judge Burnham much less than others, looking on, had done,
and so gradual and subtle had been the change in her own feeling from
almost dislike to simple indifference, and from thence to quickened
pulse and added interest in life at his approach, that she had not in
the remotest sense realized the place which he held in her heart until
his own words revealed it to her. That she liked him better than any
other person, she began to know; but when she thought about it at all
it seemed a most natural thing that she should. It was not saying a
great deal, she told herself, for she really liked very few persons,
and there had never been one so exceptionally kind and unselfish and
patient. What should she do but like him? Sure enough! And yet, when
he asked her to be his wife, it was as complete a surprise as human
experiences could ever have for her. Desolate, afflicted, deserted, as
she felt, it is no wonder that the revelation of another’s absorbed
interest in her filled her heart.

As I say, then, she lived it alone for one delightful week. It was the
afternoon of the day on which she expected Judge Burnham’s return, and
she knew that his first step would be an interview with her father.
She determined to be herself the bearer of the news to Susan. During
this last week, whenever she thought of her sister, it had been a
tender feeling of gratitude for all the quiet, unobtrusive help and
kindness that she had shown since she first came into the family.
Ruth determined to show that she reposed confidence in her, and for
this purpose sought her room, ostensibly on some trivial errand, then
lingered and looked at a book that lay open, face downward, as if to
keep the place, on Susan’s little table. Susan herself was arranging
her hair over at the dressing bureau. Ruth never forgot any of the
details of this afternoon scene. She took up the little book and read
the title, “The Rest of Faith.” It had a pleasant sound. _Rest_ of any
sort sounded pleasantly to Ruth. She saw that it was a religious book,
and she dimly resolved that some other time, when she felt quieter,
had less important plans to carry out, she would read this book, look
more closely into this matter, and find, if she could, what it was
that made the difference between Susan’s experience and her own. That
there was a difference was _so_ evident; and yet, without realizing it,
Ruth’s happiness of the last few days was making her satisfied with her
present attainments spiritually. No, not exactly satisfied, but willing
to put the matter aside for a more convenient season.

“I have something to tell you that I think you will be interested to
hear,” she said, at last, still turning the leaves of the little book,
and feeling more embarrassed than she had supposed it possible for
_her_ to feel.

“Have you?” said Susan, brightly. “Good! I like to hear new things,
especially when they have to do with my friends.” And there was that in
her tone which made her sister understand that she desired to convey
the thought that she felt close to Ruth, and wanted to be held in dear
relations. For the first time in her life Ruth was conscious of being
willing.

“Judge Burnham is to return to-day.”

“Yes, I heard you speaking of it.”

There was wonderment in Susan’s tone, almost as well as words could
have done. It said: “What is there specially interesting in that?”

“Do you feel ready to receive him in a new relation?” Ruth asked, and
she was vexed to feel the blood surging into her cheeks. “I think he
has a desire to be very brotherly.”

“Oh, Ruth!”

There was no mistaking Susan’s tone this time. She had turned from
the mirror and was surveying her sister with unmistakably mournful
eyes, and there was astonished sorrow in her tones. What could be the
trouble! Whatever it was Ruth resented it.

“Well,” she said haughtily, “I seem to have disturbed as well as
surprised you. I was not aware that the news would be disagreeable.”

“I beg your pardon, Ruth. I _am_ very much surprised. I had not
supposed such a thing possible.”

“Why, pray?”

“Why, Ruth, dear, he is not a Christian?”

It would be impossible to describe to you the consternation in Susan’s
face and voice, and the astonishment in Ruth’s.

“Well,” she said again, “it is surely not the first time you were
conscious of that fact. He will be in no more danger in that respect
with me for a wife. At least I trust he will not.”

Susan had no answer to make to this strange sentence. She stood, brush
in hand, gazing bewilderingly at Ruth’s face for a moment. Then,
recollecting herself, turned toward the mirror again, with the simple
repeatal:

“I beg your pardon. I did not mean to hurt your feelings.”

As for Ruth, it would have been difficult for her to analyze her
feelings. _Were_ they hurt? Was she angry? If so, at what or whom? Her
heart felt in a tumult.

Now, I want you to understand that, strange as it may appear, this
was a new question to her. That Judge Burnham was not a Christian man
she knew, and regretted. But, that it should affect her answer to his
question was a thought which had not once presented itself. She turned
and went out from that room without another word, and feeling that she
never wanted to say any more words to that girl.

“It is no use,” she said, aloud and angrily. “We can never be anything
to each other, and it is folly to try. We are set in different molds.
I no sooner try to make a friend and confidant of her than some of her
tiresome notions crop out and destroy it all.”

She knew that all this was nonsense. She knew it was the working of
conscience on her own heart that was at this moment making her angry;
and yet she found the same relief which possibly you and I have felt in
blaming somebody for something, aloud, even while our hearts gainsayed
our words.

It is not my purpose to linger over this part of Ruth Erskine’s
history. The time has come to go on to other scenes. But in this
chapter I want to bridge the way, by a word or two of explanation,
so that you may the better understand Ruth’s mood, and the governing
principle of her actions, in the days that followed.

By degrees she came to a quieter state of mind—not, however, until the
formalities of the new relation were arranged, and Judge Burnham had
become practically almost one of the family. She grew to realizing that
it was a strange, perhaps an unaccountable thing that she, a Christian,
should have chosen for her life-long friend and hourly companion
one who was really hardly a believer in the Christ to whom she had
given herself. She grew to feeling that if this thought had come
first, before that promise was made, perhaps she ought to have made a
different answer. But I shall have to confess that she drew in with
this thought a long breath of relief as she told herself it was settled
_now_. There was no escape from promises as solemn as those which had
passed between them; that such covenants were, doubtless, in God’s
sight, as sacred as the marriage relation itself, and she was glad, to
the depths of her soul, that she believed this reasoning to be correct.

At the same time there was a curious sensation of aversion toward the
one who had, as it seemed to her, rudely disturbed the first flush of
her happiness. The glamour was gone from it all. Henceforth a dull
pain, a sense of want, a questioning as to whether she was just where
she should be, came in with all the enjoyment and she struggled
with the temptation to feel vindictive toward this disturber of her
peace. Besides this, she confided to Judge Burnham the fact that Susan
thought she was doing wrong in engaging herself to a man who was not a
Christian; and, while he affected to laugh over it good-naturedly, as a
bit of fanaticism which would harm no one, and which was the result of
her narrow-minded life hitherto, it meant more than that to him—jarred
upon him—and Ruth could see that it did. It affected, perhaps
insensibly, his manner toward the offending party. He was not as
“brotherly” as he had designed being; and altogether, Susan, since the
change was to come, did not regret that Judge Burnham’s disposition was
to hurry it with all possible speed. Life was less pleasant to her now
than it had been any time since her entrance into this distinguished
family. The pleasant little blossom of tenderness which had seemed
to be about to make itself fragrant for her sister and herself had
received a rude blast, and was likely to die outright.

During the weeks that followed there were other developments which
served to startle Ruth as hardly anything had done hitherto. They can
best be explained by giving you the substance of a conversation between
Judge Burnham and herself.

“I ought to tell you something,” he said, and the brief sentence was
preceded and followed by a pause of such length, and by such evident
embarrassment, that Ruth’s laugh had a tinge of wonder in it, as she
said, “Then, by all means I hope you will do so.”

“I suppose it is not altogether new to you?” he said, inquiringly.
“Your father has doubtless told you somewhat of my past life.”

She shook her head. “Absolutely nothing, save that you were, like
himself, a lawyer, resident in the city during term-time, and having
a country-seat somewhere. He didn’t seem to be very clear as to that.
Where is it? I think I shall be glad to live in the country. I never
tried it, but I have an idea that it must be delightful to get away
from the tumult of the city. Do you enjoy it?”

Judge Burnham’s unaccountable embarrassment increased. “You wouldn’t
like _my_ country-seat,” he said decidedly. “I never mean you to see
it, if it can be helped. There is a long story connected with it, and
with that part of my life. I am sorry that it is entirely new to you;
the affair will be more difficult for you to comprehend. May I ask you
if you mean you are _utterly_ ignorant of my early life? Is it unknown
to you that I have once been a married man?”

There was no mistaking the start and the flush of surprise, if it was
no deeper feeling, that Ruth exhibited. But she answered quietly enough:

“I am entirely ignorant of your past history, viewed in any phase.”

Judge Burnham drew a heavy sigh.

“I said the story was a long one, but I can make it very brief.” He
began: “You know that a life-time of joy, or misery can be expressed
in one sentence. Well, I married when I was a boy; married in haste
and repented at leisure, as many a boy has. My wife died when we had
been living together for five years, and I have two daughters. They are
almost women, I suppose, now. The oldest is seventeen, and they live at
the place which you call my country-seat. Now, these are the headlines
of the story. Perhaps you could imagine the rest better than I can tell
you. The filling out would take hours, and would be disagreeable both
to you and to me. I trust you will let me relieve you from the trial
of hearing. There is one thing I specially desire to say to you before
this conversation proceeds further: that is, I supposed, of course, you
were familiar with these outlines, at least so far as my marriage is
concerned, else I should have told you long ago. I have not meant to
take any unfair advantage of you. I had not an idea that I was doing
so.”

“Does my father know that you have daughters?” This was Ruth’s
question, and her voice, low and constrained, sounded so strangely to
herself that she remembered noticing it even then.

“I do not know. It is more than probable that he does not. Indeed,
I am not sure that any acquaintance of mine in the city knows this
part of my history. My married life was isolated from them all. I
have not attempted to conceal it, and, at the same time, I have made
no effort to tell it. I am painfully conscious of how all this must
look to you, yet I know you will believe that I intended no deception.
With regard to the—to my daughters, my professional life has kept me
from them almost constantly, so that no idea of _our_ home—yours and
mine—is associated with them. I have no intention of burying you in the
country, and indeed my errand here at this hour was to talk with you in
regard to the merits of two hotels, at either of which we can secure
desirable rooms.”

He hurried over this part of his sentence in a nervous way, as one
who was trying, by a rapid change of subject, to turn the current of
thought. Ruth brought him back to it with a question which stabbed him.

“But, Judge Burnham, what sort of a father can you have been all these
years?” He flushed and paled under it, and under the steadiness of her
gaze.

“I—I have hardly deserved the name of father, I suppose, and yet in
some respects I have tried to do what it seemed to me I could. Ruth,
you don’t understand the situation. You think you do, and it looks
badly to you, but there are circumstances which make it a peculiarly
trying one. However, they are not circumstances which need to touch
_you_. I meant and I mean to shield you from all these trials. I asked
you to be, not my housekeeper, not a care-taker of two girls who would
be utterly uncongenial to you, but my _wife_, and—”

She interrupted him. “And do you suppose, Judge Burnham, that you and I
can settle down to a life together of selfish enjoyment in each others’
society, ignoring the claims which your children have on you, and
which, assuredly, if I become your wife, they _will have_ on me? Could
you respect me if I were willing to do so?”

It was clear that Judge Burnham was utterly confounded. He arose and
stood confronting her, for she had risen to draw aside a fire-screen,
and had not, in speaking, resumed her seat. “You do not understand,”
he muttered, at last. “I have meant nothing wrong. I provide for them,
and am willing to do so. I see that they are taken care of; I do not
propose to desert them, but it would be simply preposterous to think of
burying you up there in the country with that sort of companionship!
You do not know what you are talking about. I have never for a moment,
thought of such a thing.”

“Then it is clearly time to think. If I do not understand _you_, Judge
Burnham, neither do you understand me. My life has been anything but
a perfect one, or a happy one. I have gone so far wrong myself that
it ill becomes me to find fault with others. But there is one thing I
will never do. I will never come between a father and his children,
separating them from the place which they ought to have beside him.
_Never!_”



CHAPTER XVII.

DUTY’S BURDEN.


BY degrees Judge Burnham began to understand the woman whom he had
chosen for his wife. Hitherto he had been in the habit of being
governed by his own will, of bending forces to his strong purposes.
Those occasional characters with whom he came in contact, who refused
to be molded by him, he had good-naturedly let alone, crossing their
path as little as possible, and teaching himself to believe that they
were not worth managing, which was the sole reason why he did not
manage them. But Ruth Erskine was a new experience—she _would do_ what
she believed to be the right thing; and she _would not_ yield her
convictions to be governed by his judgment. He could not manage _her_,
and he had no wish to desert her. Clearly one of them must yield. The
entire affair served to keep him in a perturbed state of mind.

Ruth grew more settled. Weeks went by, and her decisions were made, her
plans formed, and she walked steadily toward their accomplishment. Not
realizing it herself, she was yet engaged in making a compromise with
her conscience. She believed herself, perhaps, to have done wrong in
promising to become the wife of a man who ignored the principle which
governed her life. She would not give back that promise, but she would
make the life one of self-abnegation, instead of—what for one brief
week it had seemed to her—a resting place, full of light. She would be
his wife, but she would also be the mother of his daughters; she would
live with them, for them; give up her plans, her tastes, her pursuits,
for their sake. In short, she would assume the martyr’s garb in good
earnest now, and wear it for a lifetime. The more repulsive this course
seemed to her—and it grew very repulsive indeed—the more steadily she
clung to it; and it was not obstinacy, you are to understand. It will
do for such as Judge Burnham to call such resolves by that name; but
you should know that Ruth Erskine was all the time governed by a solemn
sense of duty. It was _cross_, hard, cold, unlightened by any gleams of
peace; but for all that it started in a sense of _duty_.

By degrees the “long story,” much of it, came to light—rather was
dragged to light—by a persistent method of cross-questioning which
drove Judge Burnham to the very verge of desperation.

“Judge Burnham,” she would begin, “how have your daughters been cared
for all these years?”

“Why,” he said, wriggling and trying to get away from his own sense of
degradation, “they had good care; at least I supposed it was. During
their childhood their mother’s sister lived there, and took the sole
charge of them. She was a kind-hearted woman enough, and did her duty
by them.”

“But she died, you told me, when they were still children.”

“Yes, that was when I was abroad. You see when I went I expected to
return in a year at most, but I staid on, following one perplexing
tangle after another in connection with my business affairs, until
four or five years slipped away. Meantime their aunt died, and the old
housekeeper, who had lived with their family since the last century
sometime, took her place, and managed for them as well as she could. I
didn’t realize how things were going. I imagined everything would come
out right, you know.”

“I don’t see how they could,” Ruth said, coldly, and Judge Burnham
answered nothing.

“Didn’t they attend school?”

“Why, yes, they went to the country school out there, you know, when
there was one. It is too near the city to secure good advantages, and
yet too far away for convenience. I meant, you see, to have them in
town, when I came home, at the best schools, and boarding with me, but
I found it utterly impracticable—utterly so. You have no conception of
what five years of absence will do for people.”

“I can imagine something of what five years of neglect would do.”

Ruth said it icily—as she _could_ speak. Then he would say, “Oh, Ruth!”
in a tone which was entreating and almost pitiful. And he would start
up and pace back and forth through the room for a moment, until brought
back by one of her stabbing questions.

“How have they lived since your return?”

“Why, right there, just where they always have lived. It is the only
home they have ever known.”

“And they are entirely alone?”

“Why, no. The housekeeper, of whom I told you, had a daughter, a
trustworthy woman, and when her mother died this daughter moved to the
house, with her family, and has taken care of them.”

“And so, Judge Burnham, your two daughters have grown to young
ladyhood, isolated from companionship, and from education, and from
refinements of every sort, even from their own father, and have been
the companions of ignorant hirelings!”

“I tell you, Ruth, you must see them before you can understand this
thing,” he would exclaim, in almost despair.

“I assuredly mean to,” would be her quiet answer, which answer drove
him nearer to desperation than he was before. At last he came and stood
before her.

“You force me to speak plainly,” he said. “I would have shielded you
forever, and you will not let me. These girls are not like your class
of girls. They have no interest in refined pursuits. They have no
refinement of feeling or manner. They have no desire for education.
They do not even care to keep their persons in ordinarily tasteful
attire. They care nothing for the refinements of home. They belong to a
lower order of being. It is simply impossible to conceive of them as my
children; and it is utterly preposterous to think of your associating
with them in any way.”

She was stilled at last—stunned, it would seem—for she sat in utter
silence for minutes that seemed to him hours, while he stood before her
and waited. When at last she spoke, her voice was not so cold as it had
been, but it was controlled and intensely grave.

“And yet, Judge Burnham, they _are_ your children, and you are bound
to them by the most solemn and sacred vows which it is possible for
a man to take on his lips. How can you ever hope to escape a just
reward for ignoring them? Now, I must tell you what I feel and mean. I
do not intend to be hard or harsh, and yet I intend to be true. I am
not sure that I am acting or talking as other girls would, under like
circumstances; but that is a question which has never troubled me. I am
acting in what I believe to be the right way. You have asked me to be
your wife, and I have promised in good faith. It was before I knew any
of this story, which, in a sense, alters the ground on which we stood.
I will tell you plainly what I believe I ought to do, and what, with
my present views, I _must_ do. I will give my life to helping you in
this matter. I will go up to that home of yours and hide myself with
those girls, and we will both do what we can to retrieve the mistakes
of a lifetime. I will struggle and plan and endure for them. I am
somewhat versed in the duties which this sort of living involves, as
you know, and in the crosses which it brings. Perhaps it was for this
reason they were sent to me. I have chafed under them, and been weak
and worthless, God knows; and yet I feel that perhaps he is giving me
another chance. I will try to do better work for him, in your home,
than I have in my own. At any rate, I _must try_. If I fail, it shall
be after the most solemn and earnest efforts that I can make. But,
as I said, it _must be_ tried. This is not all self-sacrifice, Judge
Burnham. I mean that I could not do it, would not see that I had any
right to do it, if I had not given my heart to _you_; and if for the
love of you I could not trust myself to help you in _your_ duty. But
you must fully understand that it seems unquestionably to be your duty.
You must not shirk it; I must never help you to shirk it; I should not
dare. I will go with you to that home, and be with you a member of
that family. But I can never make with you another home that does not
include the _family_. I _must never do it_.”

Judge Burnham hoped to turn her away from this decision, which was, to
him, simply an awful one! Do you imagine that he accomplished it? I
believe you know her better. It is necessary for you to remember that
he did not understand the underlying motive by which she was governed.
When she said, “I _must_ not do it,” he did not understand that she
meant her vows to Christ would not let her. He believed, simply, that
she set her judgment above his, in this matter, and determined that
she _would_ not yield it. The struggle was a severe one. At times he
felt as though he would say to her, if she “_must_ not” share with him
the home he had so lovingly and tenderly planned for her, why, then,
_he_ must give her up. The only reason that he did not say this, was
because he did not dare to try it. He had not the slightest intention
of giving her up; and he was afraid she would take him at his word, as
assuredly she would have done. She was dearer to him, in her obstinacy,
than anything in life—and nothing must be risked. Therefore was he sore
beset; and, as often as he renewed the struggle, he came off worsted.
How could it be otherwise, when Ruth could constantly flee back to that
unanswerable position—“Judge Burnham, it is _wrong_; I _must_ not do
it?” What if _he_ didn’t understand her? He saw that she understood
herself, and meant what she said.

So it came to pass that, as the days went by, and the hour for the
marriage drew nearer and nearer, Judge Burnham felt the plans, so dear
to his heart, slipping away from under his control. Ruth would be
_married_. Well, that was a great point gained. But she would not go
away for a wedding journey; she would not go to the Grand Hotel, where
he desired to take rooms—no, not for a day, or hour. She would not have
the trial of contrast between the few, first bright days of each other,
and the dismal days following, when they had each other, with something
constantly coming between. She would go directly to that country home,
and nowhere else She would go to it just as it was. He was not to alter
the surroundings or the outward life, in one single respect. She meant
to see the home influence which had molded those girls exactly as it
had breathed about them, without any outside hand to change it. She
proposed to do the changing herself. One little bit of compromise her
stern conscience admitted—her future husband might fit up one room for
her use—her private retreat—according to his individual taste, and she
would accept it from him as hers. But the outer life, that was to be
lived as a family, he must not touch.

“But Ruth,” he said, “you do not understand. Things have utterly gone
to decay. There was no one to care, or appreciate; there was no one to
_take_ care of anything, and I let everything go.”

“Very well,” she said; “then we will see what our united tastes can do,
toward setting everything right, when we come to feel what is wanted.”

“Then couldn’t you go with me and see the place, a few weeks before we
go there, and give directions, such as you would like to see carried
out?—just a few, you know, such as you can take in at a glance, to make
it a little more like home?”

She shook her head decidedly. No, indeed. She was not going there to
spy out the desolation of the land. She was going to it as a _home_;
and if, as a home, it was defective, together they—he, his daughters
and herself—would see what was needed, and remodel it.

How dismally he shook his head over that! He knew his daughters, and
she did not. He tried again:

“But, Ruth, it is five miles from the railroad. How will it be possible
to ride ten miles by train, and five by carriage, night and morning,
and attend to business?”

“Easily,” she said, quietly; “except in term-time. The busiest season
that my father ever had we were in the country, and he came out nearly
every evening. In term-time we must _all_ come into town and board, I
suppose.”

He winced over this, and was silent, and felt himself giving up his
last hope of holding this thing in check, and began to realize that he
loved this future wife of his very much indeed, else he could never
submit to such a state of things. He believed it would last for but
a little while—just long enough for her to see the hopelessness of
things. But this “seeing,” with her, into all its hopelessness, was
what he shrank from.

So the days went by; not much joy in them for any one concerned.
Away from Ruth’s influence, Judge Burnham was annoyed, to such a
degree, that he could hardly make a civil answer to the most ordinary
question; and his office clerks grumbled among themselves that, if
it made such a bear of a man to know that in three weeks he was to
have a wife, they hoped their turn would never come. Away from his
presence, Ruth was grave to a degree that threw an added shadow over
the home-life. Susan felt herself to be in disgrace with her sister,
and had been unable thus far, to rise above it, and be helpful, as
she would have liked to be. Judge Erskine, hearing more details from
his friend than from his daughter, sympathized with her strong sense
of duty, honored her, rejoiced in her strength of purpose, and was
_sorry_ for her, realizing, more than before, what a continuous chain
of trial her life had been of late. Therefore, his tone was tender and
sympathizing, when he spoke to her, but sad, as one who felt _too_
deeply, and was not able to impart strength.

As for Mrs. Erskine, she had so much to say about the strangeness of it
all—wondering how Judge Burnham could have managed to keep things so
secret, and how the girls looked, whether they favored him, or their
ma, and whether they would be comfortable sort of persons to get along
with—that Ruth was driven to the very verge of distraction, and felt,
at times, that, to get out of that house, into any other on earth,
would be a relief.

There was much ado, also, about that wedding. Mrs. Erskine wanted
marvelous things—an illumination, and a feast, and a crowd, and all
the resources of the rain-bow, as to bridal toilet. But here, as in
other matters, Ruth held steadily to her own way, and brought it to
pass—a strictly private wedding, in the front parlor of her father’s
house; not a person, outside of the Erskine family circle, to witness
the ceremony, save Marion Dennis; she, by virtue of being Dr. Dennis’
wife, gained admission. But Marion Dennis’ tears fell fast behind
the raised handkerchief, which shielded her face during the solemn
prayer. She knew, in detail, some of Ruth’s plans. She knew, better
than Ruth did—so _she_ thought—that plans are sometimes hard to carry
out. How many _she_ had indulged and, at this moment, there sat at
home, her haughty daughter, Grace, entirely unforgiving, because of
_her_ “meddling”—so she styled the earnest attempts to shield her from
danger. To Marion, Ruth’s future had never looked less hopeful than it
did on this marriage morning.

It may be that her own disappointments caused some of the flowing
tears; but her _heart_ ached for Ruth. What should _she_ do without a
Christian husband—a husband entirely in sympathy with every effort, and
entirely tender with every failure of hers! What was Ruth to do, with
Judge Burnham for a husband, instead of Dr. Dennis! How were the trials
of life to be borne with any man living except this _one_!

Thus reasoned silly Marion—unconsciously, indeed; but that was as it
seemed to her.

Well for Ruth, that even at this moment, she could look into the face
of the man whom she had chosen, and feel: “It is after all, for _him_.
There is no other person for whom I could begin this life.”

Said a friend, the other day, in sympathetic tones, as she spoke of a
young bride going far from her home and her mother: “I feel _so_ sorry
for her. It is such a trying experience, all alone, away from all her
early friends.”

“But,” I said, “after all, she doesn’t go as far as you told me you
did, when you were married.”

The answer was quick:

“Oh, no; but then I had _my husband_, you know; and she—”

And then she stopped to laugh.

So it was a blessed thing that Ruth Burnham, going out from the home
which had sheltered her, felt that she went _with her husband_.



CHAPTER XVIII.

EMBARRASSMENT AND MERRIMENT.


I SUPPOSE there was never a bride going out from her home, with her
husband, who was more silent than was our Ruth. It was the silence of
constraint, too. It was such a little journey! ten miles or so, by
train, then five by carriage, and then—what _were_ they coming to? If
only it had been her husband’s happy home, where treasures were waiting
to greet him, and be clasped to his heart, Ruth felt that it would have
been _so_ much easier.

Yet I think, very likely, she did not understand her own heart.
Probably the easiest excuse that we can make for ourselves, or for our
shrinking from duties, is, “If it were _only_ something else, I could
do it.” I think it quite likely that had Ruth been going to just such
a home as she imagined would make her cross lighter, she would have
been jealous of those clasping hands and tender kisses. The human heart
is a strange instrument, played upon in all sorts of discords, even
when we think there is going to be music. As it was, the certainty of
her husband’s disapproval, the sense of strangeness, and the sense of
shrinking from the new trials, and the questioning as to whether, after
all, she had done right, all served to depress Ruth’s heart and hush
her voice, to such a degree that she felt speech was impossible. I want
to linger a minute over one sentence—the questioning as to whether,
after all, she had done right. There is no more miserable state of
mind than this. It is such dreadful ground for the _Christian_ to
occupy! Yet, practically, half the Christians in the world are there.
Theoretically, we believe ourselves to be led, even in the common
affairs of life, by the All-wise Spirit of God; theoretically, we
believe that _He_ can make no mistake; theoretically, we believe that
it is just as easy to get an answer from that Spirit—“a word behind
thee,” as the Bible phrases it, directing us which way to go—as it is
to hear our human friend answer to our call. But, practically, what
_do_ we believe? What is the reason that so much of our life is given
up to mourning over _possible_ mistakes? Is it because we choose to
decide some questions for ourselves without bringing them to the test
of prayer? or because, having asked for direction, we failed to watch
for the answer, or expect it, and so lost the “still small voice?”
Or is it, sometimes, because having heard the voice, we regret its
direction and turn from it, and choose our own?

Ruth Burnham was conscious of none of these states. She had prayed
over this matter; indeed, it seemed to her that she had done little
else than pray, of late; and, in some points, she was strong, feeling
that her feet had been set upon a rock. But in others there was, at
this too late moment, a sense of faltering. “Might she not,” asked her
conscience of her, “have yielded somewhat? Would it have worked any ill
for them both to have gone away from everybody for a few weeks, as
Judge Burnham so desired to do, and have learned to know and help each
other, and have learned to talk freely together about this new home,
and have grown stronger together, before facing this manifest duty?”

I do not tell you she might have done all this. Perhaps her first
position, that it would have been unwise and unhelpful, was the right
one. I think we do, sometimes, put added touches of our own to the
cross that the Father lays upon us, making it shade in gloom, when he
would have tinted it with the sunlight. But I do not say that Ruth had
done this. I don’t know which was wise. What I _am_ sure of is, that
she, having left it to Christ; having asked for his direction, and
having received it (for unless she thought she had been shown the step
to take, assured she ought not to have stepped,) she had no right to
unrest herself and strap on to her heart the burden of that wearying
question, “_Did_ I, after all, do right?”

Judge Burnham could match her in quietness. He had her beside him at
last. She was his wife; she bore his name; henceforth their interests
were one. Thus much of what he had months ago set himself steadily to
accomplish had been accomplished. But not a touch of the details was
according to his plans. The situation in which he found himself was so
new and so bewildering, that while he meant, for her sake, to make the
best of it until such time as she should see that she was wrong and he
right, yet, truth to tell, he hardly knew how to set about making the
best of it.

He did what he could. No topic for conversation that suggested
itself to his mind seemed entirely safe. And, beside, what use to
try to converse for so short a journey? So he contented himself with
opening her car-window, and dropping her blind, and arranging her
travelling-shawl comfortably for a shoulder-support, and in other
nameless, thoughtful ways making this bit of a journey bright with
care-taking tenderness. It served to show Ruth how royally he would
have cared for her in the longer journey which he wanted, and which she
wouldn’t have. Whereupon she immediately said to her heart “Perhaps it
would have been better if I had yielded.” And that made her miserable.
There was no time to yield now. The station was called out, and there
was bustle and haste and no little nervousness in getting off in time,
for the train seemed, before it fairly halted, to have been sorry
for that attempt at accommodation, and began to show signs of going
on again that were nerve-distracting. It annoyed Judge Burnham to
the degree that he said, savagely, to the conductor, “It was hardly
worth while to stop, if you can’t do it more comfortably.” He would
have liked so much to have been leisurely and comfortable; to have
done everything in a composed, travelled manner; he understood so
thoroughly all the details of travelled life. Why _could_ he not show
Ruth some of the comforts of it? That little station! It was in itself
a curiosity to Ruth. She had not supposed, that ten miles away from a
city, anything could be so diminutive. A long, low, unpainted building,
with benches for seats, and loungers spitting tobacco-juice for
furniture. There was evidently something unusual to stare at. This was
the presence of a quiet, tasteful carriage, with handsome horses, and
a driver who indicated, by the very flourish of his whip, that this
was a new locality to him. He and his horses and his carriage belonged,
unmistakably, to city-life, and had rarely reached so far out.

“Is this your carriage?” Ruth asked, surveying it with a touch of
satisfaction as Judge Burnham made her comfortable among the cushions.

“No, it is from town. There are no carriages belonging to this
enlightened region.”

“How do your family reach the station, then?”

“They never reach it,” he answered, composedly. He had resolved upon
not trying to smooth over anything.

“But how did you get to and from the cars when you were stopping here?”

“On the rare occasions when I was so unfortunate as to stop here I
sometimes caught the wagon which brings the mail and takes unfortunate
passengers; or, if I were too early for that, there were certain
milk-carts and vegetable-carts which gave me the privilege of a ride,
with a little persuasion in the shape of money.”

Nothing could be more studiedly polite than Judge Burnham’s tone; but
there was a covert sarcasm in every word he said. He seemed to Ruth to
be thinking, “I hope you realize the uncomfortable position into which
your obstinacy has forced me.”

Evidently not a touch of help was to be had from him. What were they
to talk about during that five miles of travel over a rough road? Ruth
studied her brains to try to develop a subject that would not make them
even more uncomfortable than they now felt. She was unfortunate in
selection, but it seemed impossible to get away from the thoughts which
were just now so prominently before them. She suddenly remembered a
fact which surprised her, and to which she gave instant expression.

“Judge Burnham, what are your daughter’s names?”

The gentleman thus addressed wrinkled his forehead into a dozen
frowns, and shook himself, as though he would like to shake away all
remembrance of the subject, before he said:

“Their very names are a source of mortification to me. The elder is
Seraphina and the other Araminta. What do you think of them?”

Ruth was silent and dismayed. This apparently trivial circumstance
served to show her what a strange state of things existed in the home
whither she was going. She didn’t know how to answer her husband’s
question. She was sorry that she had asked any. There seemed no way out
but to ask another, which, in truth, pressed upon her.

“How do you soften such names? What do you call them when you address
them?”

“I call them nothing. I know of no way of smoothing such hopeless
cognomens, and I take refuge in silence, or bewildering pronouns.”

Ruth pondered over this answer long enough to have her courage rise and
to grow almost indignant. Then she spoke again:

“But, Judge Burnham, I do not see how you could have allowed so strange
a selection for girls in this age of the world. Why didn’t you save
them from such a life-long infliction? Or, was there some reason for
the use of these names that dignifies them—that makes them sacred?”

“There is this sole reason for the names, and for many things which you
will find yourself unable to understand. Their mother was a hopeless
victim to fourth-rate sensation novels, and named her daughters from
that standpoint. I was in reality powerless to interfere. You may have
discovered before this that I am not always able to follow out the
dictates of my own judgment, and others, as well as myself, have to
suffer in consequence.”

What could Ruth answer to this? She felt its covert meaning; and so
sure was she beginning to feel that she had followed her own ideas,
instead of the leadings of any higher voice, that she had not the heart
to be offended with the plainness of the insinuation. But she realized
that it was a strange conversation for a newly-made husband and wife.
She took refuge again in silence. Judge Burnham tried to talk. He asked
if the seat she occupied was entirely comfortable, and if she enjoyed
riding, and if she had tried the saddle, or thought she would enjoy
such exercise, and presently he said:

“These are abominable roads. I am sorry to have you so roughly treated
in the very beginning of our journey together. I did not want roughness
to come to you, Ruth. I thought that you had endured enough.”

She was sorry that he said this. Her tears were never nearer the
surface than at this moment, and she did not want to shed them. She
began to talk rapidly to him about the beauty of the far-away hills
which stretched bluely before them, and he tried to help her effort and
appreciate them. Still it was too apparent just then neither cared much
for hills; and it was almost a relief when the carriage at last drew up
under a row of elms. These, at least, were beautiful. So was the long,
irregular, grassy yard that stretched away up the hill, and was shaded
by noble old trees. It required but a moment to dismiss the carriage,
and then her husband gave her his arm, and together they toiled up the
straggling walk toward the long, low building, which was in dire need
of paint.

“This yard is lovely,” Ruth said, and she wondered if her voice
trembled very much.

“I used to like the yard, a hundred years or so ago,” he answered
sadly. “It really seems to me almost as long ago as that since I had
any pleasant recollections of anything connected with it.”

“Was it your mother’s home?”

“Yes,” he said, and his face grew tender. “And she was a good mother,
Ruth; I loved the old house once for her sake.”

“I think I can make you love it again for mine.” Ruth said the words
gently, with a tender intonation that was very pleasant to hear, and
that not many people heard from her. Judge Burnham was aware of it, and
his grave face brightened a little. He reached after her hand, and held
it within his own, and the pressure he gave it said what he could not
speak. So they went up the steps of that low porch with lighter hearts,
after all, than had seemed possible.

The door at the end of that porch opened directly into the front room,
or “keeping room,” as, in the parlance of that region of country, it
was called, though Ruth did not know it. The opening of that door was
a revelation to her. She had never been in a real country room before.
There were green paper shades to the windows, worn with years, and
faded; and little twinkling rays of the summer sunshine pushed in
through innumerable tiny holes, which holes, curiously enough, Ruth
saw and remembered, and associated forever after with that hour and
moment. There was a rag carpet on the floor, of dingy colors and uneven
weaving. Ruth did not even know the name of that style of carpet, but
she knew it was peculiar. There were cane-seated chairs, standing in
solemn rows at proper intervals. There was a square table or “stand,”
if she had but known the proper name for it, covered with a red cotton
cloth having a gay border and fringed edges. There was a wooden chair
or two, shrinking back from contact with the “smarter” cane-seated
ones; and there was a large, old-fashioned, high-backed wooden rocker,
covered back and arms and sides, with a gay patch-work cover, aglow
with red and green and yellow, and it seemed, to poor Ruth, a hundred
other dazzling colors, and the whole effect reminded her forcibly of
Mrs. Judge Erskine!

Now, you have a list of every article of furniture which this large
room contained. No, I forget the mantle-piece, though Ruth did not.
It was long and deep and high, and was adorned with a curious picture
or two, which would bear studying before you could be sure what they
were, and with two large, bright, brass candlesticks, and a tray and
snuffers. Also, in the center, a fair-sized kerosene lamp, which looked
depraved enough to smoke like a furnace, without even waiting to be
lighted! Also, there were some oriental paintings in wooden frames
on the wall. Are you so fortunate as not to understand what oriental
paintings are? Then you will be unable to comprehend a description
of Ruth’s face as her eye rested on them! Judge Burnham was looking
at her as her eye roved swiftly and silently over this scene, not
excepting the curious paper, with which the walls were hung in a
pattern long gone by. He stood a little at one side, affecting to
raise an unmanageable window sash. They were all unmanageable; but in
reality he was watching her, and I must confess to you that this scene,
contrasted in his mind with the elegant home which his wife had left,
was fast taking a ludicrous side to him. The embarrassments were great,
and he knew that they would thicken upon him, and yet the desire to
laugh overcame all other emotions. His eyes danced, and he bit his lips
to restrain their mirth. But at last, when Ruth turned and looked at
him, the expression in her face overcame him, and he burst forth into
laughter.

It was a blessed thing for Ruth that she was able to join him.

“Sit down,” he said, wheeling the gay rocker toward her. “I am sure
you never occupied so elegant a seat before. There is a great gray cat
belonging to the establishment who usually sits in state here, but she
has evidently vacated in your favor to-day.”

Ruth sank into the chair, unable to speak; the strangeness of it all,
and the conflicting emotions stirring in her heart fairly took away the
power of speech. Judge Burnham came and stood beside her.

“We have entered into this thing, Ruth,” he said, and his voice was not
so hard as it had been, “and there are embarrassments enough certainly
connected with it, and yet it is a home, and it is _our_ home—yours and
mine—and we are _together forever_. This, of itself, is joy enough to
atone for almost anything.”

She was about to answer him, and there was a smile on her face, in the
midst of tears in her eyes; but they were interrupted. The door opened
suddenly, and an apparition in the shape of a child, perhaps five
years old, appeared to them—a tow-headed child with staring blue eyes
and wide-open mouth—a child in a very pink dress, not over-clean and
rather short,—a child with bare feet, and with her arms full of a great
gray cat. She stared amazingly at them for a moment, then turned and
vanished.

“_That_ is not mine, at least,” Judge Burnham said, and the tone in
which he said it was irresistible.

His eyes met Ruth’s at that moment, and all traces of tears had
disappeared, also all signs of sentiment. There was but one thing to
do, and they did it; and the old house rang with peal after peal of
uncontrollable laughter.



CHAPTER XIX.

MY DAUGHTERS.


THE room to which Judge Burnham presently escorted his bride was very
unlike that parlor. As she looked about her, on the exquisite air of
beauty which prevailed, and the evidences of refined and cultured
taste, scattered with lavish hand, she was touched with the thought
that her tastes had been understood and remembered, in each minute
detail.

“How very lovely this is!” she said, as her foot rested on the soft
velvet carpet, with its wildwood vines trailing in rich colors over the
floor.

“I knew you would like it,” Judge Burnham said, with a gratified
smile. “It reminded me of you, and, indeed, the entire room has seemed
to me to be full of your presence. I enjoyed arranging it. I think I
could have gratified your tastes in regard to the rest of the house,
Ruth, if you had let me.”

“Oh, I know you could,” she answered, earnestly. “It was not that I
did not trust your taste—and perhaps I made a mistake; but I meant it
right, and you must help me to bring right out of it.”

She did not realize it, but this little concession to his possible
better judgment helped her husband wonderfully.

“We will make it come right,” he said, decidedly. “And now I will leave
you to rest a little, while I go down and discover whether this house
is inhabited to-day.”

With the door closing after him seemed to go much of Ruth’s courage.
This exquisite room was a rest to her beauty-loving eyes and heart.
But it contrasted most strangely with the life below stairs; and, when
she thought of that room below, it reminded her of all there was yet
to meet and endure, and of the newness of the way, and the untried
experiments which were to be made, and of her own weakness—and her
heart trembled, and almost failed her. Yet it must not fail her; she
_must_ get strength.

Well for Ruth that she knew in what place to seek it. Instead of taking
a seat in the delicately-carved and gracefully-upholstered easy-chair,
which invited her into its depths, she turned and knelt before it.
Perhaps, after all, there are more dangerous experiences than those
which, in coming to a new home, to take up new responsibilities, lead
us to feel our utter weakness, and bring us on our knees, crying to the
strong for strength.

Judge Burnham’s entrance, nearly an hour afterward, found Ruth resting
quietly in that easy chair, such a calm on her face, and such a light
in her eyes, that he stopped on the threshold, and regarded her with a
half-pleased, half-awed expression, as he said:

“You look wonderfully rested! I think my easy chair must be a success.
Will you come down now, to a farm-house supper? Please don’t see any
more of the strange things than you can help. I tried to get the girls
to come up, and so avoid some of the horrors of a meeting below
stairs; but they are too thoroughly alarmed to have any sense at all,
and I had to abandon that plan.”

“Poor things!” said Ruth, compassionately. “Am I so very formidable?
It must be dreadful to feel frightened at people. I can’t imagine the
feeling.”

He surveyed her critically, then laughed. He had some conception of
what a vision she would be to the people down-stairs. She had not
changed her travelling dress, which was of rich dark silk, fitted
exquisitely to her shapely form, and the soft laces at throat and
wrist, brightened only by a knot of ribbon of the most delicate tint
of blue, completed what, to Judge Burnham’s cultured taste, seemed the
very perfection of a toilet.

“You do not frighten me,” he said. “I can manage to look at you
without being overwhelmed. I shall not answer for anybody else. Ruth,
I have obeyed you to the very letter. In a fit of something very like
vexation, I resolved not to lift a finger to change the customs of the
house, leaving you to see them, according to your desire, as they
were. The result is we haven’t even a table to ourselves, to-night. The
whole of that insufferable family, cat and all, are ready to gather,
with us, around their hospitable board. I am sorry, now, that I was so
very literal in my obedience.”

“I am not,” Ruth said, and her tone was quiet, and had a sound in it
which was not there when he left her. It served to make him regard her
again, curiously.

Then they went down-stairs to the kitchen! Ruth was presently seated
at the long table, alarmingly near to the stove which had cooked the
potatoes that graced the evening meal—boiled potatoes, served in
their original coats! to be eaten with two-tined steel forks, the
same forks expected to do duty in the mastication of a huge piece of
peach-pie!—unless, indeed, she did as her husband’s daughters were
evidently accustomed to doing, and ate it with her knife. There were,
at that table, Farmer Ferris, in his shirt-sleeves, himself redolent
of the barn and the cow-house; his wife, in a new, stiff, blue and
red plaid calico, most manifestly donned to do honor to the occasion;
two boys, belonging to the Ferris household, in different degrees of
shock-headed, out-at-the-elbow disorder, and the aforesaid apparition
in pink calico, the gray cat still hugged to her heart, and eating milk
from the same saucer, at intervals; and, lastly, the two daughters of
the House of Burnham.

Those daughters! The strongest emotion which Ruth found it in her
heart to have for them, on this first evening, was pity. She had never
imagined anything like the painful embarrassment which they felt. They
sat on the edges of their chairs, and, when engaged in trying to eat,
tilted the chairs forward to reach their plates, and rested their
elbows on the table to stare, when they dared to raise their frightened
eyes to do so. Their father had performed the ceremony of introduction
in a way which was likely to increase their painful self-consciousness.
“Girls,” he had said, and his voice sounded as if he were summoning
them to a trial by jury; “this is Mrs. Burnham.” And they had stood up,
and essayed to make little bobbing courtesies, after the fashion of
fifty years ago, until further pressed by Mrs. Ferris, who had said,
with a conscious laugh:

“For the land’s sake, girls! do go and shake hands with her. Why, she
is your ma now.”

But Judge Burnham’s haughty voice had come to the rescue:

“If you please, we will excuse them from that ceremony, Mrs. Ferris,”
he had said. “Mrs. Burnham, please be seated.” And he had drawn back
her chair with the courtesy of a gentleman and the inward fury of a
lion. In truth, Judge Burnham was ashamed of and angry with himself,
and I am glad of it; he deserved to be. Instead of asserting his
authority, and making this meeting and this first meal together
strictly a family matter, and managing a dozen other little details
which he could have managed, and which would have helped wonderfully,
he had angrily resolved to let everything utterly alone, and bring Ruth
thus sooner and more decisively to seeing the folly, and the utter
untenableness of her position. But something in the absolute calm of
her face, this evening—a calm which had come to her since he left her
in their room alone—made him feel it to be more than probable that she
would not easily, nor soon, abandon the position which she had assumed.

The ordeal of supper was gotten through with easier than Ruth had
supposed possible—though truth to tell, the things which would have
affected most persons the least, were the hardest for her to bear. She
had not entirely risen above the views concerning refinement which she
had expressed during the early days of Chautauqua life; and to eat with
a knife when a fork should be used, and to have a two-tined steel fork,
instead of a silver one, and to have no napkin at all, were to her
positive and vivid sources of discomfort—sources from which she could
not altogether turn away, even at this time. I am not sure, however,
that, in the trivialities, she did not lose some of the real trials
which the occasion certainly presented.

Directly after the supper was concluded, with but a very poor attempt
at eating on Ruth’s part, Judge Burnham led the way to that dreadful
parlor, interposing his stern voice between the evident intention of
the daughters to remain in the kitchen:

“I desire that you will come immediately to the parlor.”

As for Ruth and himself, they did not retreat promptly enough to
escape Mrs. Ferris’ stage-whisper:

“For the land’s sake, girls! do go quick; I’m afraid he will bite you
next time. I wonder if she is as awful cross as he is? She looks it,
and more too.”

In the midst of all the tumult of thought which there might have been,
Ruth found herself trying to determine which was the most objectional
expression of the two, Mrs. Judge Erskine’s favorite “Land alive!”
or Mrs. Ferris’ “For the land’s sake!” Where do Americans get their
favorite expletives, anyway?

She had not much time to query, for here were these girls, sitting each
on the edge of one of the solemn cane-seated chairs, and looking as
thoroughly miserable as the most hard-hearted could have desired. What
was she to say to them, or would it be more merciful to say nothing
at all? Ruth felt an unutterable pity for them. How miserably afraid
they were of their father! How entirely unnatural it seemed! And it
could not be that he had ever been actually unkind to them? It was just
a system of severe letting alone, combined with the unwisdom of the
Ferris tongue which had developed such results. Between the intervals
of trying to say a few words to them, words which they answered with
solemn “Yes, ma’ams,” Ruth tried to study their personal appearance.
It was far from prepossessing; yet, remembering Susan, and the
marvelous changes which the “ivy-green dress,” fitted to her form, had
accomplished, wondered how much of their painful awkwardness was due to
the utter unsuitability of their attire, and the uncouth arrangement of
their _coiffures_.

The elder of the two was tall and gaunt, with pale, reddish, yellow
hair—an abundance of it, which she seemed to think served no purpose
but to annoy her, and was to be stretched back out of the way as far
and as tightly as possible. Her shoulders were bent and stooping; her
pale, blue eyes looked as though, when they were not full of dismayed
embarrassment, they were listless, and her whole manner betokened that
of a person who was a trial to herself, and to every one with whom she
came in contact.

People, with such forms and faces, almost invariably manage to
fit themselves out in clothing which shows every imperfection to
advantage. This girl was no exception; indeed, she seemed to have
succeeded in making an exceptional fright of herself. Her dress was
of the color and material which seemed to increase her height, and
bore the marks of a novice in dress-making about every part of it.
To increase the effect it was much too short for her, and showed to
immense disadvantage a pair of strong, thick country boots, which might
have been excellent for tramping over plowed ground in wet weather.
The younger sister was a complete contrast in every respect. Her
form can only be described by that expressive and not very elegant
word “chunky.” From her thick, short hair, down to her thickly-shod
feet, she seemed to be almost equally shapeless and graceless; fat,
red cheeks; small, round eyes shining out from layers of fat; large,
ill-shaped hands; remarkably large feet, apparently, or else her shoes
were, and arrayed in a large plaided dress of red and green, which was
much too low in the neck and much too short-waisted, and was absolutely
uncouth! Swiftly, silently, Ruth took in all these details. And she
took in, also, what her husband had never known—that a large portion
of this uncouthness was due to the outward adornings or disguisings,
which is what persons devoid of taste sometimes succeed in making of
their dress.

In the midst of her musings there came to her a new idea. It dawned
upon her in the form of a question. Why should she, a lady of fashion
and of leisure, and of such cultured taste that she was an acknowledged
authority among her friends, on all matters pertaining to the esthetic,
be in so marked a manner, for the second time in her short life,
brought face to face with that form of ill-breeding which troubled her
the most? Not only face to face with it, but put in such a position
that it was her duty to endure it patiently and show kindly interest in
the victims? Was it possible? And this thought flashed upon her like
a revelation—that she had been wont to make too much of this matter;
that she had allowed the lack of culture in these directions to press
her too sorely. Now, do you know that this was the first time such a
possibility had dawned on Ruth Burnham? So insensible had been her
yielding to the temptation which wealth and leisure brings, to give
too much thought and too high a place to these questions of dress and
taste, that, as I say, she had not been conscious of any sin in that
direction, while those who looked on at her life had been able to see
it plainly, and in exaggerated form!

I suspect, dear friend, that you, at this moment, are the victim of
some inconsistency which your next-door neighbor sees plainly, and
which, possibly, injures your influence over her, and you are not
conscious of its development. Now, that is a solemn thought, as well
as a perplexing one, for what is to be done about it? “Cleanse thou me
from secret faults,” prayed the inspired writer. May he not have meant
those faults so secret that it takes the voice of God to reveal them to
our hearts?

At least to Ruth Burnham, sitting there in that high-backed rocker,
looking at her husband’s daughters, the thought came like the voice of
God’s Spirit in her heart. She had come very near to that revealing
Spirit during the last two hours—rather he had made his presence known
to her. She was in a hushed mood, desiring to be led, and she plainly
saw that even this exhibition of uncouthness could be a discipline to
her soul, if she would but allow its voice. You are not to understand
that she, therefore, concluded uncouthness and utter disregard of
refined tastes to be necessary outgrowths of Christian experience, or
to be in the least necessary to a higher development of Christian life.
She merely had a glimpse of what it meant, to be in a state of using
this world as not abusing it. The thought quickened her resolutions
in regard to those neglected girls thus thrown under her care, and,
I have no doubt, that it toned her voice when she spoke to them. I
believe it not irreverent to say that the very subject upon which she
first addressed them was chosen for her, all unconsciously to herself,
by that Ever-present Spirit, to whom nothing that an immortal soul can
say, appears trivial, because he sees the waves of influence which are
stirred years ahead by the quiet words.

Just what the two frightened girls expected from her would have been,
perhaps, difficult for even themselves to explain. For years all their
intercourse with their father had consisted in a series of irritated
lectures, delivered in a sharp key, on his part, and received in a
frightened silence by them. He had been utterly disappointed with
them in every respect, and he had not failed to show it, and they
had not failed to seek for sympathy by pouring the story of their
grievances into Mrs. Ferris’ willing ears. The result was that she
had but increased their terror in and doubt of their father. Added to
this, she had all the ignorant superstition of her class in regard to
step-mothers, if, indeed the views of this sort of people shall be
called by no harsher name than superstition. The new-comer had been,
during the last week, most freely discussed in the Ferris household,
and the result had been what might have been expected. Therefore, it
was with unfeigned amazement and with the demonstrations of prolonged
stares, that Ruth’s first suddenly spoken sentence broke the silence
which the others were feeling keenly.

“Your hair looks as though it would curl, naturally; did you ever try
it?”

This to the elder girl, whose whole face reddened under the
astonishment produced by the query, and who, as I said, could only
stare for a moment. Then she said:

“Yes, ma’am, I did once; long time ago.”

“And didn’t you like the appearance?”

A more vivid blush and a conscious laugh was the answer. Then she added:

“Why, yes, well enough; but it was such a bother, and nobody to care.”

“Oh, it is very little trouble.” Mrs. Burnham answered, lightly,
“when you understand just how to manage it. I think natural curls are
beautiful.”



CHAPTER XX.

A SISTER NEEDED.


SOME vigorous planning was done that night which followed Ruth
Burnham’s introduction to her new home. It was not restless planning;
neither could it be said to be about new things, for these things Ruth
had studied every day since the first week of her engagement, and the
summer, which was in its spring-time then, was fading now, so she had
_thought_ before. But something had given her thoughts new strength
and force. Ruth believed it to be that hour which she had spent alone
on her knees. She had spent many an hour before that alone on her
knees, but never had the power of the unseen presence taken such hold
upon her as at that time. She had felt her own powerlessness as _Ruth
Erskine_ had not been given to feeling it, and you know it is “man’s
extremity that is God’s opportunity.”

It was before the hour of breakfast that she commenced the process of
developing some of her plans to her husband.

“How long will it take to dispose of the Ferris family?” she asked
him, and her voice was so calm, so full of strength, and conscious
determination that it rested him.

“It can be done just as soon as your genius, combined with my executive
ability, can bring it to pass,” he answered, laughing, “and I sincerely
hope and trust that you will be brilliant and rapid in your display of
genius.”

“But, Judge Burnham, ought they to have warning, as we do with
servants?”

“A week’s warning? I trust not! I should not promise to endure a
week of it. Oh, they are prepared. I broadly hinted to them that the
mistress would want the house to herself. If they had not felt the
necessity of being here to welcome you it could have been managed
before this. They have their plans formed, I believe, and as soon as
you want to manage without them, I will make it for their interest to
be in haste.”

Ruth turned toward him with a relieved smile and an eager air. “Could
you manage, then, to make it to their interest to go before breakfast,
or shall we have to wait until that meal is over?”

He laughed, gayly. “Your energy is refreshing,” he said, “especially
when it is bestowed in such a worthy cause. No, I think we will have
to wait until after breakfast. But, Ruth, are you really in earnest?
Do you actually mean to settle down here, in this house, as it is? And
what are you going to do about help, and about—well, everything?”

Before she answered she came over and stood beside him, slipping
her hand through his arm and speaking in tender earnestness. “Judge
Burnham, I want you to understand me; I feel that I may have seemed
hard, and cold, and selfish. Perhaps I have been selfish in pushing my
plan; I think I have been, but I did not intend it for selfishness. I
was, and am, led by what seems to be _our_ duty—yours and mine. Those
girls of yours have been neglected. I can see how you, being a man,
would not know what to do; at the same time I can see how I, being a
woman, can at least _try_ to do many things, and I am very eager to
try. You may call it an experiment if you will, and if it is, in your
estimation in six months from now an utter failure, I will give it up
and do exactly as you propose.”

There was a gleam of assurance in her eyes, and he could see that she
did not believe he would ever be called upon to follow _his_ plans. But
something tender and pleading in her tone touched him, and he said,
with feeling:

“I begin to realize forcibly, what has only come upon me in touches
heretofore—that I have not done my duty by the girls. I did not know
what to do. I used to study the question and try to plan it, but I can
not tell you how utterly hopeless it seemed to me. Finally, I gave it
up. I determined that nothing could ever be done but to support them
and live away from them, and long before I knew you I determined on
that as my line of action. So your resolution was a surprise to me—an
overwhelming one. But, perhaps, you are right. At least I will help
you in whatever way I can to carry out _your_ plans, however wild they
are, and I begin to realize that you may possibly have some very wild
ones, but I promise allegiance.”

“Good!” said Ruth, with sparkling eyes, “I ask nothing better than
that. Then we will proceed at once to business; there is so much to be
done that I don’t feel like taking a wedding journey just now. We can
enjoy it so much more when we get our house in order. There are certain
things that I need to know at once. First, how much or how little is
there to be done to this house, and—and to everything? In other words,
how much money am I to spend?”

“Oh,” he said looking relieved, “I thought you were going to ask me
what ought to be done to make the place habitable, and, really, I
hardly know where to commence. I shall be charmed to leave it in your
hands. As to money, I think I may safely promise you what you need
unless your ideas are on a more magnificent scale than I think. I will
give you my check this morning for a thousand dollars, and when that
is used you may come to me for as much more. Is that an answer to your
question?”

“An entirely satisfactory one.” She answered him with shining eyes,
and they went down to breakfast with a sense of satisfaction which,
considering the surroundings and the marvelous calicoes in which the
daughters of the house appeared, was surprising.

“I don’t see the way clear to results,” Judge Burnham said,
perplexedly, as he and his wife walked on the piazza after breakfast
and continued the discussion of ways and means. “If the Ferris tribe
vacate to-day, as I have just intimated to the head of the family is
extremely desirable, what are you to do for help until such time as
something competent in that line can be secured, always supposing that
there _is_ such a thing in existence? I remember what an experience you
have been having in your father’s house in the line of help.”

“Oh, well,” said Ruth, brightly, “we had the small-pox, you know;
that makes a difference. They have excellent servants there now, and,
indeed, we generally have had. My housekeeping troubles did not lie in
that direction. I have a plan; I don’t know what you will think of it.
I am afraid you will be very much surprised?”

“No, I shall not,” he interrupted her to say, “I have gotten beyond the
condition of surprise at anything which you may do or propose.”

Then she went on with her story.

“I thought it all over last night, and if she will do it, I think I see
my way clear, and I am almost sure she will, for, really, I never knew
a more unselfish girl in my life.”

“I dare say,” her husband said, regarding her with an amused air.
“Perhaps I might agree with you if you will enlighten me as to which of
the patterns of domestic unselfishness you have in mind. Did she reign
in your household since my knowledge of it began?”

“Oh, I am not speaking of _hired_ help,” Ruth said, and a vivid flush
brightened her cheeks. “I was thinking of my sister. It is her help I
have in mind.”

“Susan!” he exclaimed, and then was suddenly silent. His face showed
that, after all, she had surprised him.

There was much talk about it after that, and the discussion finally
ended in their taking passage in the mail-wagon, about which Judge
Burnham had spoken the day before, and jogging together to the train.
There was so much to be done that Ruth had not the patience to wait
until another day, besides their departure would give the Ferris
family a chance to hasten _their_ movements. On the way to the cars
Judge Burnham mentally resolved that his first leisure moments should
be spent in selecting horses and a driver, since he was to become a
country gentleman. Whether he would or not, it became him to look out
for conveniences.

Seated again in the train, and made comfortable by her watchful
husband, Ruth took time to smile over the variety of experiences
through which she had gone during the less than twenty-four hours since
she sat there before. It seemed to her that she had lived a little
life-time, and learned a great deal, and it seemed a wonderful thing
that she was actually going to Susan Erskine with a petition for help.
Who could have supposed that _she_, Ruth Erskine, would ever have
reached such a period in her history that she would turn to her as
the only a available source of supply and comfort. A great deal of
thinking can be done in one night, and Ruth had lain awake and gone
over her ground with steady gaze and a determined heart. It surprised
her that things had not looked plainer to her before. “Why couldn’t I
have seen this way, yesterday, before I left home?” she asked herself,
but the wonder was that she had seen it thus early.

Very much surprised were the Erskine household to see their bride of
less than twenty-four hours’ standing appear while they still lingered
over their breakfast-table!

“We live in the country, you know,” was Ruth’s composed explanation of
the early advent. “Country people are up hours before town people have
stirred; I always knew that.”

“Land alive!” said Mrs. Judge Erskine, and then for a whole minute she
was silent. She confided to Ruth, long afterward, that for about five
minutes her “heart was in her mouth,” for she surely thought they had
quarrelled and parted!

“Though I thought at the time,” she explained, “that if you _had_ got
sick of it a’ready you wouldn’t have come back together, and have
walked into the dining-room in that friendly fashion. But, then, I
remembered that you never did things like anybody else in this world,
and if you had made up your mind to come back home again, and leave
your husband, you would be sure to pick out a way of doing it that no
other mortal would ever have thought of!”

“I am going to my room,” Ruth said presently. “Judge Burnham, I will
hasten, and be ready to go down town with you in a very little while.
Susan, will you come with me, please? I want to talk to you.”

And Susan arose with alacrity, a pleasant smile lighting her plain
face. There was a sound of sisterliness in the tone, which she had
watched and waited for, but rarely heard.

“I have come on the strangest errand,” Ruth said, dropping into her own
favorite chair, as the door of her old room closed after them. “I feel
as if I were at least a year older than I was yesterday. I have thought
so much. First of all, Susan, I want to tell you something. I have
found something. I have come close to Jesus—I mean he has come close to
me. He has almost shown me himself. I don’t know how to tell you about
it, and indeed I am not sure that there is anything to _tell_. But
it is a great deal to have experienced. I seem to have heard him say,
‘Come to _me_. Why do you struggle and plan and toss yourself about?
Haven’t I promised you _rest_?’ And, Susan, I do believe he spoke to my
heart; why not?”

“Why not, indeed!” said Susan, “when he has repeated the message so
many times. Ruth, I am _so_ glad!”

Then Ruth ran rapidly from that subject to less important ones, giving
her sister a picture, in brief, of the new home, closing with the
sentence:

“Now I am in a dilemma. I can’t keep any of the Ferris family for an
hour, and I can’t introduce new servants until things are in different
shape, and I can’t get them into different shape until I have help. Do
you see what I am to do?”

“Yes,” said Susan, with a bright smile, “you need a sister; one who
knows how to help in all household matters, and yet who knows how to
keep her tongue reasonably quiet as to what she found. I know how
servants gossip, some of them. That Rosie we had for a week tried to
tell me things about Mrs. Dr. Blakeman’s kitchen that would make her
feel like fainting if she knew it. A sister is just exactly what you
need in this emergency. Will you let her step into the gap and show you
how nicely she can fill it?”

“_Will_ you?” Ruth asked, eagerly. “That is just exactly what I
wanted to say, though I didn’t like to say it, for fear you would
misunderstand, not realize, you know, that it is because we don’t want
to go out of the _family_ for assistance just now that we needed you so
much.”

Recognized at last in _words_ as a member of the family! An
unpremeditated sentence, evidently from the heart. It was what Susan
Erskine had been patiently biding her time and waiting for. It had come
sooner than she expected. It made her cheeks glow.

“I will go home with you at once,” she said, in a business-like way.
“There is nothing to hinder. The machinery of this house is in running
order again. That new second girl is a treasure, Ruth, and, by the way,
she has a sister who might develop into a treasure for you. Now let me
see if I understand things. What do you want to do first?”

“First,” said Ruth, smiling, “I need to go shopping. It is my _forte_,
you know. I like to buy things, and at last there is certainly occasion
for my buying. Susan, you have no idea how much is wanted. Everything
in every line is necessary, and Judge Burnham has left all to me. We
need paper-hangers and painters, and all that sort of thing, but of
course he will attend to those things. Our plan is to return to-night
with a load of necessities. Judge Burnham is going to hire a team at
once, and have it loaded. But what _are_ the first necessities? Where
shall I begin?”

“Begin with a pencil and paper,” said Susan, seizing upon them and
seating herself. “Now, let us be methodical. My teacher in mathematics
once told me that I was nothing if I was not methodical. Kitchen
first—no, dining-room, because we shall have to eat even before we get
the house in order. What is a necessity to that table before you can
have a comfortable meal?”

Then they plunged into business. Two women, thoroughly in earnest,
pencil and paper in hand, bank check in pocket, organization well
developed in both of them, and the need of speed apparent, can
accomplish surprising things in the way of plans in an hour of time,
especially when one is persistently methodical.

When Mrs. Burnham arose and drew her wrap around her preparatory
to joining the husband, who was waiting below, she felt as though
a week’s work had been accomplished. Besides, they had been cheery
together, these two—been in a different mood toward each other from
what had ever appeared before. Susan was so sensible, so quick-witted,
so clear-sighted as to what needed doing first, and as to ways of
doing the soonest, and withal her matter-of-course way of saying “we”
when she spoke of the work to arrange, made her appear such a tower
of strength to Ruth, who knew so well her own delinquencies in the
direction of housework, and who had thoroughly tested Susan’s practical
knowledge.

“Land alive!” ejaculated Mrs. Erskine, when, after Ruth’s departure,
the new arrangements were presented to her for approval. “Who would
have thought she would have to come after you, in less than a day
after she set out to do for herself. So capable as she is, too, though
I don’t suppose she knows much more than a kitten about housework. How
should she? Well, I’m glad I had you learn all them things. What we’d
have done this winter if I hadn’t is more than _I_ can see through.
Well, well, child, I don’t know how we are going to get along without
you. Your pa sets great store by you; I can see it every day; and what
if I should have another turn of sick headache while you’re gone!
Though, for that matter, I don’t believe I will. I guess going through
the small-pox cured them headaches. I ain’t had one since. And so she
needs you right off? Well, poor thing! I don’t know what she _would_ do
without you, I’m sure. Them girls ain’t efficient, I dare say; girls
never are. You learn ’em how, Susan; you can do it, if anybody can, and
that’ll be doing ’em a good turn.”

Susan discreetly kept her own counsel about “them girls,” and quietly
and swiftly packed her satchel, not without an exultant song at her
heart. This beautiful sister, whose love she had craved, seemed very
near to her this morning.



CHAPTER XXI.

TRYING QUESTIONS.


YOU are to imagine much that was done inside that long, low house on
the hill during the next three weeks. A great deal can be done in three
weeks’ time. What _was_ actually accomplished would fill a good-sized
volume; so it is well that you are to imagine instead of read about it.
A great many wheels of progress were started during that very first
day—Ruth among the stores, Judge Burnham among the paper-hangers,
painters and draymen, Susan in the Erskine attic, sorting out and
packing many things that, according to Judge Erskine’s orders, were
Ruth’s exclusive property. By the time the five o’clock train received
the three, they were tired and satisfied.

Tired though they were, it was as late as midnight before all the
household settled into rest. Susan dropped into her place as naturally
as though it had been waiting for her all these years. The Ferris
family were departed bag and baggage, and the two Burnhams left behind
were red-eyed and disconsolate. Why not? The Ferrises were the only
friends they had ever known. Susan put a sympathetic arm around one
and kissed the other before she had been in the house five minutes,
and Ruth remembered with dismay that she had not thought of doing such
a thing. And, indeed, if I must tell you the truth concerning her, it
seemed almost an impossible thing to do! She had been for so many years
in the habit of bestowing her kisses rarely and to such an exceedingly
limited number of persons. Then they betook themselves, Susan and
Seraphina, to the kitchen. Confusion reigned. So it did all over the
house, except in the locked-up purity of Ruth’s two rooms. But before
midnight there was a comfortable place for Susan to sleep and most
satisfactory preparations in line for a breakfast the next morning.

It was that next morning which gave the two Burnham girls their first
touch of a cultured home. There was a little room, conveniently
situated as regarded the kitchen, which the instinct of taste had made
Ruth select at the first glance as a dining-room. Thither she and Susan
repaired early in the evening to make a survey.

“It needs painting,” said Susan, scanning the wood-work critically,
“and papering; and then, with a pretty carpet, it will be just
the thing. But, in the meantime, it is clean, and we can set the
breakfast-table here to-morrow morning, can’t we?”

“If we can get it in here to set,” Ruth answered, in a dubious tone.
“It is a long, horribly-shaped table, and none of _our_ furniture will
be here, you know.”

“Oh, I see my way out of that. There is a little table in that pantry,
or milk-room, or whatever is the name of it, that will do nicely for
a dining-table until we get settled; and, Ruth, shall we have some of
my muffins for breakfast? You remember Judge Burnham used to like
them when we gave them to him occasionally for tea. Oh, girls! I can
make delicious muffins, and if you are both down here by six o’clock
to-morrow morning I will teach you how, the first thing I do.”

This last to the two bewildered girls, who stood waiting to see what
astonishing thing would happen next. As for Ruth, she went up-stairs
to that gem of a room, smiling over the strangeness of the thought
that Susan was down-stairs in their kitchen, hers and Judge Burnham’s,
planning with his daughters to have muffins for breakfast! Also, she
thought, with a sense of satisfaction, of the great trunk packed with
silver, rare old pieces of her mother’s own, which had been held sacred
for her during all these years, and of the smaller and newer trunk
containing table drapery, which was a marvel of fineness and whiteness.
Both trunks had journeyed hither several days ago, and had this night
been opened to secure certain things which Susan’s morning plans had
called for.

So it was to the little room that the family came the next morning,
with its south window, into which the September sun slanted its rays
cheerily. The room itself was carpetless, and the chairs were wooden,
and there was no other attempt at furniture. But the table, laid
in snowy whiteness, and the napkins large and fine and of delicate
pattern, and the silver service gleaming before Ruth’s place, and the
silver forks and solid silver spoons, and the glittering goblets and
delicate china—for Susan had actually unpacked and washed and arranged
Ruth’s mother’s china—to say nothing of the aroma of coffee floating
in the air, and mingling not unpleasantly with the whiff of a vase of
autumn roses which blushed before Ruth’s plate.

All these things were a lesson in home refinements such as a week of
talking would never have accomplished, and which the Burnham girls sat
down to for the first time in their lives. It was curious to notice the
effect on them. Their conspicuous calicoes and stretched-back hair and
ungainly shoes were still painfully visible. But, for the first time,
apparently, it dawned upon them that things didn’t match. They surveyed
the table, which was as a picture to them, and then, with instinctive
movements, essayed to hide their awkward shoes under their too short
dresses, and blushed painfully over the impossibility of doing so. Ruth
noticed it, and smiled. They would be ready for her hand, she fancied,
when she came to an hour of leisure to arrange for them.

That breakfast scene was a cheery one. So much of home had already
entered into its elements that Judge Burnham cordially pronounced Susan
a fairy, and she as genially responded that she was a most substantial
one, and had had two substantial helpers, with a meaning glance toward
the girls.

“Indeed!” he said, in kindly tone, and then he glanced toward them.

That was a very pleasant way of showing good-will. The contrast between
this breakfast and the one to which they sat down but the morning
before was certainly very striking And, though the girls blushed
painfully, the tone in which he had spoken, and the glance which
accompanied his remark, did more for those daughters than all their
father’s lectures had accomplished.

Directly the muffins and the broiled steak and the amber coffee were
discussed, and, the meal concluded, business in that house commenced.
Thereafter it was a scene of organized disorder. The girls, under
Susan’s lead, proved, notwithstanding Mrs. Judge Erskine’s surmise,
very “efficient” helpers. They could not enter a room properly, they
could not use the King’s English very well, and they knew nothing
about the multitude of little accomplishments with which the girls of
their age usually consume time. But it transpired that they could wash
windows, and “paints,” and sweep walls, and even nail carpets. They
were both quick-witted and skillful over many of these employments,
and the hearty laugh which occasionally rung out from their vicinity,
when Susan was with them, showed plainly that they had lost their fear
of her; but their embarrassment, where either their father or Ruth was
concerned, did not decrease. And, indeed, in the whirl of plans which
had recently come upon them, these two had little leisure to cultivate
the daughters’ acquaintance. Ruth, after a few attempts at helping,
discreetly left the ordering of the hired helpers to Susan’s skillful
hands, and accompanied her husband on daily shopping excursions, where
her good taste and good sense were equally called into action.

In the course of time, and when there is a full purse to command
skillful helpers, the time need not be so very long drawn out. There
came a morning when it would have done your comfort-loving heart
good to have walked with Judge Burnham and his wife through the
reconstructed house! Nothing showy; nothing really expensive, as that
term is used in the fashionable world, had been attempted. Ruth’s
tastes were too well cultured for that. She knew, perfectly, that what
was quite in keeping with the lofty ceilings and massive windows of her
father’s house would be ridiculously out of place here. As you passed
with her from room to room you would have realized that nothing looked
out of place. Perhaps in the girl’s room as much thought had been
expended as in any place in that house.

Ruth had been amazed, not to say horrified, on the occasion of her
first visit to their room, to find that it was carpetless, curtainless,
and, I had almost said, furnitureless! An old-fashioned, high-post
bedstead, destitute of any pretense of beauty, and a plain-painted
stand, holding a tin basin and a broken-nosed milk pitcher! To Ruth,
whose one experience of life had to do with her father’s carefully
furnished house, where the servants’ rooms were well supplied with
the comforts, to say nothing of the luxuries of the toilet, this
looked simply barbarous. Judge Burnham, too, was shocked and subdued.
It had been years since he had been a caller in his daughters’ room,
and he had seemed to think that magic of some sort must have supplied
their wants. “I furnished money whenever it was asked for,” he said,
regarding Ruth with a sort of appealing air. “Now, that I think of it,
they were never extravagant in their demands; but I supposed I gave
them enough. At least, when I thought about it at all, I assured myself
that the Ferrises would certainly not be afraid to ask for more, if
more was needed.”

“The difficulty with the Ferris family was, that they had no tastes to
expend money for,” Ruth said, quietly, “but you can not wonder that
the girls are not just what we would like to see them. They certainly
have had no surroundings of any sort that would educate them in your
direction.”

After this talk he entered with heartiness into the plans for that
room, and when the delicate blue and pale gold carpet was laid—and
it reminded one of a sunset in a pure sky—and the white drapery was
looped with blue ribbons, rural fashion, and the gold-banded china was
gracefully disposed on the toilet case, and the dressing-bureau was
adorned with all the little daintinesses which Ruth understood so well
how to scatter, even to a blue and gold vase full of sweet-scented
blossoms, and the pretty cottage bedstead was luxuriously draped in
spotless white, plump pillows, ruffled pillow shams, all complete,
Ruth stood back and surveyed the entire effect with the most intense
satisfaction. What said the girls? Well, they _said_ nothing. But
their blazing cheeks and suspiciously wet eyes looked volumes, and for
several days they stepped about that room in a tiptoe fashion which
would have amused Ruth, had she seen it. They could not rally from the
feeling that everything about them was so delicate and pure that to
breathe upon, or touch, would be to mar a work of art.

Meantime, other matters had been progressing. Ruth had lain awake
half of one night and studied the immortal question of dress. She had
met and battled with, and conquered half a dozen forms of pride, and
then had boldly announced at the next morning’s breakfast-table, the
following:

“Judge Burnham, the girls and I want to go to the city to attend to
some dress-making. Shall we go in that mail-wagon, or how?”

Before this, I should have explained to you that Judge Burnham had
been, for some days, in an active state of trying horses, examining
carriages, and interviewing professional drivers. Also, several horses
and carriages had waited on them for trial, so that Ruth had taken
several rides to the cars on trial, and had once suggested that perhaps
it would be as economical a way of keeping a carriage as any, this
spending the season in making a choice. Therefore Judge Burnham laughed
as he answered:

“Why, no, there is to be a trial span here in time for the ten o’clock
train. I was about to propose a ride in honor of that occasion. Are
you going into town for the day?”

Ruth laughed.

“For the week, I am afraid. We shall probably be detained at the
dressmaker’s for some time, and, after that, I have many errands to do.”

Now the form in which her pride had met her last, was the shrinking
from going to town, and above all, going to the fashionable
dress-making and millinery establishments with those strange-looking
companions, for a critical survey of their wardrobe revealed the fact
that they had nothing which she considered decent. This was not the
first time that she had taken the subject into consideration. On the
contrary, it had been present with her during her shopping excursions,
and she had blessed the instinct which enabled her to see at a glance
just what shade or tint would suit the opposite complexions of the two
girls.

She had visited her dressmaker and made arrangements with her for
service. But the question had been, whether she could not smuggle them
off in some way to a quieter street among the less fashionable workers,
and secure for them a respectable outfit in which to appear at Madame
Delfort’s. It was over these and kindred plans that she had lain awake,
and finally abandoned them all, and resolved upon outright unconcern
in regard to what others might say or think. Nevertheless she winced
when the two girls came down arrayed in their best, bright plaids—for
Mrs. Ferris’ taste had run entirely in that direction—cheap hat adorned
with cheap flowers and brilliant ribbons, both flowers and ribbons more
or less soiled, and with no gloves at all. Seraphina reported that she
_had lost_ hers, and Araminta, that she _couldn’t find hers_. Between
those two states there is a distinction, though it may not appear at
first sight.

The trial carriage had arrived, and Judge Burnham seated his party,
himself wearing a disturbed face. He did not like the appearance of the
company with which he was to go to town. Ruth had thought of this, and
had tried to plan differently, but with a man’s obtuseness he had _not_
thought of it, and could not, or would not understand why he should go
in on the ten o’clock train, and the rest wait until twelve, especially
when his wife admitted herself to be in haste and they might all go
together. Fairly seated opposite his daughters, he saw a reason for
having gone earlier, and even looked about him, nervously, as the
carriage neared the depot, wishing there was yet some chance of escape.

A way opened. “Ah, good-morning, Judge! this is fortunate. I am in
search of you.” This was the greeting which he received from the depot
door. And he left Ruth standing on the steps and went forward to shake
hands with a tall, gray-haired man, in the prime of life. He came back
after a few moments, speaking rapidly. “Ruth, that is Parsons, the
famous criminal lawyer; he wants to consult me in regard to a case, and
is going farther on by the next train in search of a clue. I guess,
after all, I shall have to wait here for the twelve o’clock, and have a
talk with him; that is, if you do not object.”

“Oh, not at all!” Ruth said, breathing more freely. Her husband’s
daughters were less of a cross to her without him than with him. Every
man he met on the train knew and came to talk with him, while she was
a stranger. The famous criminal lawyer moved toward them, looking
interested, and Judge Burnham could hardly escape the ceremony of
introduction.

“Ah!” he said, bowing low to Mrs. Burnham, “very happy to meet you,
madam. I have known your husband for several years. I hear you are just
getting settled at your country-seat. Terrible task, isn’t it? But
pays, I suppose, when one gets fairly settled. I didn’t know until the
other day that you were rural in your tastes, Judge Burnham?”

All these sentences, spoken in the man-of-the-world tone, which
indicates that the person is talking for the sake of filling the time,
and all the while his practiced eye was taking in the group—Judge
Burnham with a slightly embarrassed manner and somewhat flushed
face; his elegant, high-bred wife, who was a trifle pale as she was
wont to be under strong feeling of any sort; and the two girls, in
_outre_ attire, standing a little apart, with wide eyes and flaming
cheeks, staring painfully. The criminal lawyer seemed to think that
the position demanded more words from him. “You are the victims of
the usual American nuisance, I see,” with the slightest possible
inclination of his head toward the two. “The inefficiency of hired
help is really the social puzzle of this country, I think. Foreigners
have immensely the advantage of us. Just returning a relay of the
condemned sort I suppose?”

There was the rising inflection to his sentence which marks a question,
and yet he rattled on, precisely like a man who expects no answer. Was
it because the train sounded its warning-whistle just then, that Judge
Burnham, though his face flushed and his eyes flashed, did not correct
the criminal lawyer’s mistake?



CHAPTER XXII.

“THAT WHICH SATISFIETH NOT.”


FAIRLY seated in the train, Ruth Burnham gave herself up to gloominess
over her own planning. The episode with the famous criminal lawyer not
having served to sweeten her way, she speedily determined on making
as little a cross of the rest of it as she could, too fully realizing
that, plan as she would, the way was a _cross_. She still shrank from
the fashionable “Madame’s,” and her fashionable corps of workers.
Perhaps the worriment was what she deserved for being so fashionable
in her desires that she could not bring herself to look up an obscure
back street with a modest sign, and thus help along the large army of
workers, who can not be fashionable—though really, there are two sides
to even that question. She understood that as a rule, the work done
from that back street would be a continual source of mortification to
her—a constant strain on her temper, so long as the garments lasted.
After all, it is not so much the desire to be in the height of the
fashion that sends women to the extravagantly high-priced _modistes_,
as a knowledge of the fact that as a rule, the low-priced ones do not
understand their business, and will succeed in making a bungle of any
work which they undertake. When there shall arise a class of women who
have carefully learned how to cut and make ordinary garments, in the
best manner, the cry of hard times, among such workers, will be less
frequently heard.

Ruth concluded not to risk contact with chance acquaintances in
street-cars; but, directly she reached the city, took a carriage to a
store where she was a stranger, and did some rapid transforming work.
Two stylish wraps, selected with due reference to their qualifications
for covering much objectionable toilet underneath—selected, too,
with careful reference to the height and shape and complexion of the
wearers; then gloves that were strong and neat-fitting and shapely;
then hats of easily-donned stamp, gracefully, yet slightly trimmed;
and, really, Judge Burnham would hardly have recognized his daughters.
Ruth surveyed them with satisfaction; and, if they could have been
fitted at the “Madame’s,” without removing those stylish mantles, she
would have drawn a sigh of relief. As it was, she still had that to
dread, and a real ordeal it was. Those who condemn her for exhibiting
much false pride and foolish lack of independence have probably never
been tried in the same way. You have, of course, observed that people’s
own peculiar trials are the ones for which they have sympathy. They are
harder, too, to bear, than any other person’s.

Ruth was not one whit behind the multitude, in her way of thinking
about herself. As she stood in the “Madame’s” apartments and endured
the well-bred stares and the well-bred impudence—for there really is
such a thing as what might be called well-bred impudence—she set her
teeth hard, and ruled that the color _should not_ rush into her face,
and, also, that the “Madame” should have no more of her custom, from
this time forth. And yet, when she came to cooler moments, she tried to
reason within herself, as to how the woman was to blame. What had she
said, or looked, that was not, under the circumstances, most natural?

All these questions Ruth held, for the time being, at bay, and arranged
and directed and criticised with her usual calm superiority of manner,
and with the assurance of one who knew exactly what she wanted, and
intended not to stop short of entire satisfaction. And she didn’t. She
was more critical and troublesome, even, than usual; and the “Madame”
would have told you that that was unnecessary. And, at last, after many
delays, and changes of plan and trimmings, and changes of patterns,
involving vexatious delays on “Madame’s” part, they were free of her
for the day, and could pursue their round of shopping more at leisure.
But Ruth was in no mood for shopping, other than the necessary things
that must be ordered to the “Madame’s” without delay. She was tired
and fretted; she wanted something to cool and quiet her.

She dispatched the necessary shopping with great care, indeed, but with
unusual speed, leaving the girls, meantime, seated in the carriage,
instead of in the great store, where they would have delighted to be.

The business of lunching had been dispatched some time before—as
soon, indeed, as they had left the dress-making establishment. Ruth
had chosen an obscure place for refreshment, not choosing to risk the
danger of fashionable acquaintances, at the places with which she
was familiar. Consequently, she had been able to do little else than
gather her skirts about her, to protect them from careless and hurried
waiters, and to curl her aristocratic nose behind her handkerchief, at
the unwonted smells combining around her; while the girls, famished by
the drain on their nerves, and having, by reason of the excitement of
the morning, been unable to indulge in much breakfast, made a hearty
meal, not at all disturbed by the sights and sounds and odors which
made eating an impossibility to Ruth. This little matter served to add
to her discomfort and her sense of gloom; for, when people are hungry,
they are much more ready to yield to gloom. All the shopping done that
she could bring herself to give attention to, she consulted her watch,
and learned with dismay, that there was an hour and a half before
train-time. What was to be done with it?

She thought of her husband’s office; but suppose the criminal lawyer
should be there? In any case, there would be those dreadful students
to stare, and nudge each other and giggle. Ruth dreaded a giggle more
than she did a bullet. Assuredly, she would not go there! Neither was
her city home to be thought of. She was not in a mood to present her
husband’s daughters to Mrs. Judge Erskine; neither did she intend
that those daughters, in their present attire, or with their present
attainments, should come in contact with her. So, as the gloomy-faced
woman rode listlessly along, on an up-town car, while the two
girls were bobbing their heads swiftly from one window to another,
endeavoring to take in all the strange sights, she was engaged in
trying to decide what to do with time. A blackboard bulletin, before
one of the public halls, caught her notice, and her quick eye took in
the large lettering: “_Bible Reading! Harry Morehouse! Here, at Four
O’clock! Come!_” Before she had reached the inviting word, she had
signaled the car, and the bewildered girls were following her whither
she would.

“There is an hour or more before we can go home,” she said in
explanation. “Let us go to this meeting. Perhaps it will be
interesting.”

They were entirely willing; in fact, they were in a state of maze.
Anything that this remarkable woman—who knew her way so composedly
through this great whirling city—suggested, they were willing to
help carry out. So they mounted the steps to the large, light,
social-looking room, where people were already thronging in. No
acquaintances to be feared here. Ruth did not now know many who
frequented such meetings, or were to be found in this part of the
city. In the distance she caught a glimpse Marion, but she shrank
back, unwilling to be recognized even by her; for Marion had her
beautiful daughter beside her, and the contrast would be too strikingly
painful. Presently the meeting opened. Ruth looked about her for
Harry Morehouse, a name with which she was not unfamiliar. But she
almost curled her lip in disappointment, she was so amazed at the
insignificance of this little, boyish man! “As if _he_ could help
anybody!” her heart said, in scorn. “What exaggerated reports do get
into the papers about people!” And then, presently, she did just what
many another person has done, who has listened to Harry Morehouse’s
rendering of Scripture—forgot to think of the man, and gave earnest
heed to the words which he was reading; words which, someway, had a
sound—strangely familiar though they were—as if she had never heard
them before.

“Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your
labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me,
and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in
fatness.” What was there in the familiar verse that thrilled so
through Ruth Burnham’s soul? “That which satisfieth not.” She needed
only her own experience to show her that one who understood the human
heart spoke those words! How freely she had been giving labor! and
how strangely unsatisfying it all seemed to her to-day! She fairly
hungered and thirsted after a higher grasp of the Infinite Arm, reached
down. A great longing came over her to hide herself away in him. She
was so tired and so tried, and a long line of petty trials stared her
in the face. She felt like turning away from them all; and yet she
mustn’t. Well, then, she felt like reaching higher ground—getting
up where the air was purer—where these endless details of dress and
position would trouble her less—where such women as “Madame,” the
dressmaker, would have no power to flush her cheek and set her heart
to angry beatings by a high-bred stare. Suddenly a new thought flashed
across her heart. These girls—what had she been doing for them?
How had she been trying to satisfy them? In the days that they had
spent together, she remembered that she had not once alluded, even
in the most remote manner, to anything higher, or better, or more
satisfying, than these new things, which, at best, were to perish
with the using. Had she not, by her example, left the impress of her
first influence upon them to the effect that well-furnished rooms and
carefully-adorned bodies were _the_ important things on which to spend
one’s strength?

“Well,” she said within her disturbed self, “I have no time.”

“No time?” inquired that other inner self, which is forever at war with
its fellow. “Is it because you have been employed on _more_ important
matters?”

This almost angered Ruth; it flushed her face, and she said:

“There is a proper time for all things.”

“Yes,” said the other one, “and is the proper time to attend to this
most important concern with which we have to do in life _after_ all the
lesser matters are disposed of?”

Then Ruth roused, and gave her heart some searching into. Was it
possible that she had really been teaching those girls that she
considered the matter of their outward adorning more important than
anything else connected with them! If actions speak even louder than
words, and if she had acted the one, and not so much as _spoken about_
the other, what else _could_ they think?

“I am glad,” she told herself, “that I brought them into this meeting.
At least they will get a different idea here.”

Then she turned and looked at them. _Would_ they get different ideas,
or had the first taken root, leaving at least no _present_ room for
other growths?

Miss Seraphina was spreading her hand carefully out on her lap, and
contemplating with eyes of unmistakable admiration the color and
texture and fit of her new gloves! It was altogether probable that
she had never worn well-fitting gloves before, and she felt their
importance. The other sister was evidently as totally absorbed in
the trimness of her neatly-fitting kid boot, the advent of which had
made her foot a stranger to herself, with which she was trying to get
acquainted, as though Harry Morehouse and his wonderful new Bible had
been in London at that moment! A strange pang thrilled the heart of
the woman who was trying in her youth to be a mother to these two, as
she looked at their absorbed faces and followed the direction of their
eyes. Was that simply the necessary result of new refinements? Would
these all sink into their proper and subordinate places directly the
newness and strangeness had worn off, or was this really a wave of her
own influence which was going to increase in power as surely as it was
fed?

Now, this thought did not rest her; and while it was desirable in
itself that she should be thus early roused to the sense of danger
there might be in flooding these young creatures with this world’s
vanities, that wise old enemy, Satan, was on the alert to make the
whole matter into thorns with which to prick Ruth’s tired heart, and in
obliging her thoughts to revolve around this center, never widening it
nor seeing her way out of the maze, yet effectually shutting her off
from the practical help which awaited her through the channel of Harry
Morehouse’s Bible.

Somebody has said that, whoever else stays away from a religious
meeting, Satan never does. Was there ever a truer statement? If he
would only appear in his natural character, instead of, as in this
instance, transforming himself into a goad, and pressing hard against
the nerves that were already strained to their utmost!

On the whole, Mrs. Judge Burnham went home on the five o’clock train
thoroughly wearied in body and mind, and with a haunting sense of
disappointment pressing down her spirits. She had accomplished that
which she had in the morning started to do. She had been successful
in all her undertakings, and could feel that things were now in train
for making transformation in the outward appearance of these hitherto
neglected girls. A laudable undertaking, certainly, so it was held in
its place, but she could not get her heart away from the sentence: “And
your labor for that which satisfieth not.”



CHAPTER XXIII.

WHEREFORE?


NOW, I am afraid you will laugh over the matter which appeared next
to Ruth Burnham in the shape of a trial. Yet, if you have not lived
long enough in this world to be in sympathy with the _little_ trials,
which, in certain states of mind, look large, either your experience
is not extensive or your _sympathies_ not large. It was no greater
matter than the hair which belonged to Judge Burnham’s daughters. But
really if you _could_ have seen the trying way in which they managed
to disfigure their heads with this part of their adorning, you would
have felt that some action was demanded. Ruth knew exactly how each
head ought to be dressed; she could almost see the effect that would
be produced by a skillful and easily attainable arrangement. Then
where the trial? Why, perhaps, if you are not made up of that cruelly
sensitive type of women—and I am sure I hope you are not—it will be
difficult to make plain to you how Ruth shrank from touching that hair!
Human hair, other than her own was a thing which she desired to keep
at a respectful distance. She could admire it, when well cared for,
and she did most heartily. But to _care_ for it, to comb and brush and
fondle over _any_ person’s hair, was to Ruth, or would have been had
she ever been called upon to suffer in that line, a positive martyrdom.
Now add to this the fact that this shrinking from the work increased
tenfold when it had to do with any person who was not _very_ dear and
precious, and possibly you can comprehend why she wore so troubled a
face that Saturday evening, and gazed at those hopeless heads opposite
her, and wondered how a transformation was to be brought about. She was
hopeless as regarded teaching the intricacies of any becoming twist or
curl. In time, with patience and with often taking hold and obliging
the refractory hairs to lie in their place, it might be accomplished;
and here poor Ruth shivered over the horrors of a possible future
experience. But to get them ready to appear at church the next morning,
without a personal encounter, was not to be hoped for.

This Saturday evening, although the family had been three weeks in
their new home, was the first in which they were planning for church.
The little church in the village had been closed for a longer space of
time than that, undergoing repairs, and the first Sabbath after their
marriage Ruth had contrived to plan and work herself into an exhaustive
headache that had to be succumbed to and petted all day. The next they
had been forced to spend in the city, by reason of having missed the
last train out on Saturday. Now here they were on the eve of the third,
and Ruth at least had been planning toward the little stone church
around the corner. Everything was in readiness. The new dresses and
the new bonnets and the new gloves, and all the new and bewildering
paraphernalia of the toilet had arrived from the city, the last
package only the evening before, and but for that dreadful hair Ruth
would have been happy over the thought of the effect to be produced by
the next morning’s toilet.

It was Susan who at last, and in an unexpected manner, came to the
rescue, just as she had stepped in and rescued Ruth from a hundred
trials, both seen and unseen, during the experiences of the last three
weeks. She did her part so naturally, too, as one who simply happened
along at the right moment, without having understood any special need
for it. Perhaps there is no rarer or more perfect way of bearing one
another’s burdens than this apparently unconscious one.

They sat in the cheery sitting-room—Ruth would not have it called a
parlor—and in no part of the house had the transformation been more
complete than in that square, rag-carpeted, paper-curtained, and
unhome-like room. Judge Burnham was reading certain business letters
that seemed to perplex him. The girls were wishing that they could
invent some excuse for escaping early from the room to their own, that
they might have another look at all the beauties of their wardrobe,
and Ruth was gazing at them with a distressed air and manner, and
thinking of hair! Susan, glancing up from her glove-mending, followed
the direction of Ruth’s eyes for a moment, then she spoke her thoughts.

“I just _long_ to get hold of your hair.”

The remark seemed to be addressed to the two girls, and was so in
keeping with Ruth’s thoughts that she started and flushed, wondering
for an instant whether it were possible for Susan to know what they
were. The girls laughed, and looked pleased at her interest.

“Your hair would curl beautifully,” Susan added, addressing the elder
sister. “And those wide braids in which heavy hair is arranged now
would just fit Minta’s face. Don’t you think so, Ruth?”

“Yes,” said Ruth, promptly, “I am sure of it. But I don’t know that she
could get them looped right.”

“Oh yes, she could. It is very easy after one knows how. Girls, I am an
excellent barber. Suppose we go up-stairs and try my skill? I can show
you so that you can arrange that part of your toilet in the morning in
less time than it usually takes.”

This plan was immediately carried out, the three going up-stairs with
merry voices, Susan’s cheery one being heard to say:

“Oh, you don’t understand half my accomplishments yet; there are ever
so many things I can do.”

“That is a fact,” said Judge Burnham, with emphasis. “She is a very
treasure in the house. I used to pity you, Ruth, but, upon my word,
so far as she is concerned, I am not sure that there was any room for
pity.”

“There was not,” Ruth said, heartily. “It took me a long time to
realize it, but she has been from the first day of her coming to our
home a blessing to me.”

And so strange are these hearts of ours, touched oftentimes by words
or deeds apparently so slight, Ruth felt the little episode of the
hair-dressing as something that called forth very tender feeling for
her sister. She began to have a dim idea of what a blessing might be
hidden in a simple, quiet life, constantly unselfish in so-called
_little_ things.

So it came to pass that, on a lovely Sabbath morning, the Burnham
family were one and all making ready to appear as a family in the
little stone church. The girls had been there, more or less, on
Sabbaths, during their lives. Years ago Judge Burnham used to go
occasionally, when he felt like it. But it had been many a year since
he had been seen inside the unpretending little building. Ruth, of
course, had never been, and the circumstances surrounding them all were
so new and strange that it was almost like a company of strangers being
introduced into home-life together.

The two girls came down a trifle earlier than the others, and were
in the hall near the doorway, where the soft, yellow sunlight rested
on them, when Judge Burnham descended the stairs. Half-way down he
paused, with a surprised, irresolute air, as his eyes rested on the two
apparent strangers, and then, as one of them turned suddenly, and he
caught a glimpse of her face, the surprise deepened into bewilderment.
Who _were_ these young ladies who were so at home in his house in the
privacy of a Sabbath morning? This was the first thought. And the
second, “It is not—can it be _possible_ that they are my daughters!”
Then, it is almost surprising that he did not at once feel humiliated
over the fact that outward adornings had power so to transform!

It was certainly a transformation! Rich, quiet-toned silks, just
the right tint to accord well with skin and eyes, made in that
indescribable manner which marks the finished workman, to those
eyes skilled in translating it, and to other eyes it simply
says, “The effect is perfect.” Wraps, and hats, and gloves,
and handkerchiefs—everything in keeping. And, in place of the
stretched-back hair, were soft, smooth, rolling auburn curls,
completely changing the expression of the wearer’s face. Also, that
unbecoming mass of shortish hair which had hung in such untidy
uncouthness, was gone, and in its place wide, smooth braids, tastefully
looped here and there with knots of ribbon of just the right shade.

Ruth should have been there at that moment to see the two, and to see
Judge Burnham as he looked at them. She would have felt rewarded for
her work. It certainly _was_ strange what a different manner the
hitherto awkward girls now assumed. A sense of conscious becomingness,
if it were nothing more, had fallen upon them, and in the effort to do
justice to their new selves they almost unconsciously drew the stooping
shoulders straight and stood with heads erect.

“Well, upon my word!” said Judge Burnham, recovering himself at last,
and advancing toward them, “I didn’t know you. I wondered what strange
ladies we had here. Your fall suits are certainly very becoming.”

He chose to ignore the fact that fall suits were new experiences to
them. Perhaps he really did not yet understand to what a new world they
had been introduced. The two laughed, not unpleasantly, and the flush
on their cheeks, toned, as it was, by the billows of soft ruchings
about the throat, was certainly not unbecoming. They had taken long
looks at themselves in their mirror, that morning, and it was not
unpleasant to them to think that their father did not recognize them.
They had already reached the place where they had no desire to have
their past recognized. Some seed takes root promptly and grows rapidly.

You may imagine that the entrance of the Burnham party to the little
stone church was an event in the eyes of the congregation. They had
known the Burnham girls all their lives; but these “young ladies” they
never saw before. It would have been curious to a student of human
nature to have studied the effect which their changed appearance made
on the different characters present. Certain ones looked unaffected
and unconcealed amazement; others gazed up at them, and returned their
nods of recognition with respectful bows, seeming to look upon them as
people who had moved to an immense distance from themselves; and there
were those who resented the removal, and tossed their heads and said,
with their eyes, and the shape of their mouths, that they “considered
themselves quite as good as those Burnham girls, if they were all
decked out like peacocks!”

As for Judge Burnham, the shade of satisfied pride, in place of the
mortification which he had schooled himself to feel, repaid his wife
for her three weeks of effort.

Then she tried to turn away from the question of personal appearance,
and give herself to the service; but she was both surprised and
pained to find that, in her well-meant efforts to place these girls
in their proper position before others, she had, someway, lost ground
spiritually. It was all very well to resolve to turn her thoughts away
from the girls, and their dresses, and their bonnets, and their hair,
and their manners, but it was another thing to accomplish it. She found
what, possibly, we have each discovered by experience, that it was not
easy to get away on Sabbath, in church, from that which had absorbed us
during the week, and indeed, a fair share of the early Sabbath itself.
Try as she would to join in hymn, or Bible-reading, or even prayers,
she found her mind wandering to such trivial questions as whether,
after all, a shade lighter of the silk would have fitted Minta’s
peculiar complexion better, or whether those gloves were not a trifle
large. These thoughts were very hateful to her. She struggled hard to
get away from them, and was amazed and distressed beyond measure to
find that they held her captive. She waited eagerly for the sermon,
hoping that it would be such an one as would hold her attention for
her, since she was not able to control it herself; and behold, the
text announced was one which, indeed, helped her wandering thoughts,
but threw her back into the very midst of the gloom which had pressed
her heart the last time she heard those words: “Wherefore do ye spend
money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which
satisfieth not?” Again her answering conscience said that was what she
had been doing. Money and time and strength freely given for that which
was not bread!

It had not fed her soul; on the contrary, it, or something else, had
starved her. Well, what was the trouble? She had surely done that which
was her duty? Yes, but did a revealing spirit whisper the words in her
ear, just then?—“These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the
other undone.” She had been _absorbed_ in her labor; she had put these
things first. She had risen and gone about the day, too hurried for
other than a word of prayer—too hurried for any private reading. She
had retired at night, too wearied in mind and body for any prayer at
all! She was starved! much time gone, and no bread for her hungry soul!
Also, having not fed herself, how could she have been expected to feed
others? Even yet she had said almost nothing, to these daughters of
hers, about the all-important matter. She had talked with them, often
and long. All the details of the toilet had been gone over carefully,
exhaustively, and she and they, and Judge Burnham himself, were
satisfied with the results of her words in that direction. What about
the direction which “_satisfieth_?”

How was Ruth to get away from her heart?

No, I must do her justice; that was not her cry. She did not want
to get away from the awakening voice. She was distressed, she was
humiliated, she was unhappy; but she wanted to find rest only through
the love and patience of Jesus. She felt like a sheep who had wandered
outside, even while doing work that she surely thought was set for
her—as, indeed, it was; but her eyes were just opening to the fact
that one can do work that the Master has set, so vigorously as to
forget the resting-places which he has marked for the soul to pause and
commune with him, and gather strength. She had been _working_, but not
_resting_. And then, again, it was most painfully true that, because
of her lack of spiritual strength, she had done but half her work. The
important human side she had held to its important place, and worked
faithfully for it. But the forever-more important spiritual side she
had allowed to sink almost out of sight of her vision; and even, when
roused by His Spirit, as He had spoken to her through that very verse,
but a little time before, she had allowed her roused heart to slip back
and absorb itself in the cares of this world and the adornments of
fleshly bodies, while the souls waited.

Truth to tell, Ruth was not troubled any more that morning, by
wandering thoughts; neither did she hear much of the earnest sermon
which was preached; but, if the preacher had but known how the Holy
Spirit took his text and preached to one soul for him, he would have
gone home to his closet, on his knees, and thanked God for using his
lips that day, in reading to that soul that questioning word.



CHAPTER XXIV.

“HEARKEN UNTO ME.”


“IT passes my comprehension how a man with no more development of
brain-power than that one possesses made the mistake of thinking he was
called to preach!”

This was what Judge Burnham said, as he walked with his wife home from
the morning service.

“Did you ever hear an effort more devoid of ideas? What possible good
can he think he has accomplished, if that is his motive? Or how can
he have sufficient vanity to imagine that it is other than a bore to
listen to him?”

Ruth hesitated for her answer. It was not that she had been so
impressed with the sermon, it was rather the text that had been
preached to her; and she did not feel personally sensitive in regard
to Judge Burnham’s opinion of this particular minister. I think the
reason that the words struck sharply on her heart was because they
revealed her husband’s utter lack of sympathy with the subject matter
of the sermon. He was speaking solely from a critical, intellectual
standpoint, without, apparently, a conception of any spiritual power
connected with the “foolishness of preaching.” The sentence revealed to
Ruth, as with a flash of light—such as reveals darkness—the fact that
her husband had no sympathy with Christ or his servants, as such. Of
course, she had known this before; but to know a thing and to _feel_ it
are two very different matters.

“I was not thinking of the _newness_ of the truth,” she said, after a
little, speaking hesitatingly. “It impressed me, however. A thing does
not need to be new in order to be helpful; it may be as old as the
earth, and we never have given it attention.”

“Possibly,” he said lightly. “There are things so old and so tiresome
that we do not care to give them special attention; I am entirely
willing to class that sermon among such, if you say so. I declare I had
not realized that a sermon could be such a trial to me. I don’t quite
see what is to be done; I suppose your orthodoxy will not permit of
your staying at home on Sabbath, and I’m sure we can not tolerate that
sort of preaching—I suppose he calls it preaching. How shall we manage?”

Still Ruth had no answer ready. Every word that he spoke served to
increase the heavy weight at her heart; and, despite her shivering
effort to get away from it, there rang the question, “How can two walk
together except they be agreed?” Yet she realized only too well that
the time for settling that question was long past; that she had taken
solemn and irrevocable vows upon her, and must abide by them. The
question now was, How was she so to walk with him as not to dishonor
Christ?

“I have no fault to find with the man’s preaching,” she said, coldly;
and her husband laughed good-naturedly, and told her he appreciated her
well-meant efforts to make the best of everything, but, unfortunately,
she had too much brain to allow him for a moment to believe that such
weak attempts at oratory satisfied her. Then he changed the subject,
talking of matters as foreign to Ruth’s thoughts as possible, and yet
serving, by their very distance from her heart, to press the weight of
pain deeper. Her eyes once widely opened, it seemed that everything
which occurred that day served to show her more plainly the gulf which
lay between her ideas, and plans, and hopes, and those of her husband.

“What a glorious day this is!” he had said, as they turned from the
dinner table. “I declare I believe the country _is_ ahead of the city!
on such days as these, any way. Ruth, what do you say to a ride? It
would be a good time to explore that winding road which seemed to
stretch away into nowhere.”

While he waited, he watched with surprise the flush which deepened
and spread on his wife’s face. It so happened that the question of
Sabbath riding for pleasure was one which had come up incidentally
for discussion one evening at Flossy Shipley’s, during Mr. Roberts’
visit, and Ruth, who had taken the popular view of innocent Sabbath
recreation, had discussed the matter with keen relish, finding Mr.
Roberts able to meet her at every point. She had been first annoyed
to find her position open to so much objection, then interested
to study the question in all its bearings, and ended, as such a
frank, intelligent and thoroughly sincere nature as hersmust end,
in abandoning a position which she saw was untenable, and coming
strongly over to the other side; since which time the observance of
the Sabbath had been one of her strong points. Judge Burnham had
respected her scruples, so far as he knew them, but, truth to tell,
he did not understand them very well. Having no personal principle in
the matter by which to judge, he was in danger of erring in unthought
of directions, and every new phase of the same question demanded a new
line of reasoning. It had not so much as occurred to him that his wife
would see any impropriety in riding out in her own carriage, on the
Sabbath day, with her husband, on a quiet, unfrequented country road.

While she hesitated he watched her curiously.

“Well,” he said, laughing, at last, “what is the trouble? You look
as though I had broken all the commands in the Decalogue. Am I on
forbidden ground now?”

“Not _all_ the commands,” Ruth said, trying to smile; “but you seem to
have forgotten the Fourth.”

“I am not sure that I know it. I am not thoroughly posted as to the
commandments—the position in which they stand at least. What is wrong,
Ruth?”

“Judge Burnham, I don’t like to ride out for pleasure on Sabbath.”

“What! not with me? Is it wicked to have a pleasant time on Sabbath?
I didn’t know that. I fail to see why we can’t be as good sitting
together in the carriage as we are sitting together in the parlor.
Or should we spend this day apart, enjoying the luxury of melancholy
reflection?”

“I think you know what I mean. You are much too well versed in argument
to be entirely ignorant of people’s views in regard to this day.”

“Upon my word, Ruth, I was never more innocent. I might be able to see
some force in a young lady’s objection to riding out with a young
gentleman, especially in a city, or in a crowded thoroughfare, though
even such things may be carried to excess; but when it comes to one’s
husband, and a country road where we shall not meet three people in an
hour, I confess I am befogged. Susan, do you see the bearings of this
case?”

“Why, I see a good many bearings which you would not admit, and
possibly you could bring to bear a good many arguments which _I_ would
not admit. We start from different standpoints. It all resolves itself
into whether we believe the word of God or not, and I accept it as our
rule of life.”

“Why, no, it doesn’t. I believe the word of God; in a measure at least.
I have respect for the Sabbath as an institution, and believe in its
sacredness. I have no sort of fault to find with ‘Remember the Sabbath
day, to keep it holy.’ I believe it was a good, sensible law. But we
should very likely quarrel over the word ‘holy.’ I should object to
the narrowness which made it so falsely holy that I could not enjoy a
ride with my wife after church, and I should have serious doubts as to
whether you could prove your side of the question from the Bible.”

“Listen to one Bible argument, then,” Susan said, quietly, “and tell
me what you think it means. ‘If thou turn away thy foot from doing thy
pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of
the Lord, honorable, and shalt honor Him, not doing thine own ways, nor
finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.’ What do you
think of that argument for my side, Judge Burnham?”

The gentleman addressed looked his embarrassment and annoyance. The
verse quoted sounded strangely new and solemn to him. His inner
consciousness was made certain that he was not ready to gauge his
Sabbath employments by that rule.

“Oh, well,” he said, restlessly, “that verse would have to affect other
things besides riding out in the country; it has to do with home-life,
and words, and acts, as well.”

“It certainly has,” Susan answered. And she spoke as if she thought it
in no degree lessened the force of the argument, because the obligation
reached in many directions.

“I suppose,” Ruth said, “there is no question but that the Sabbath is
very poorly observed; still that is hardly an argument for increasing
the ways for dishonoring it, is it?”

Then Judge Burnham turned on his heel and went off to the piazza,
deigning no reply to the general question that his wife had put. As for
herself, she struggled with the sense of pain that kept increasing,
and wondered how she should shape her life. Apparently, Judge Burnham
became ashamed of his rudeness, for he returned presently to the
parlor, whither Ruth had gone to wait for him, and seating himself near
her, with some pleasant remark as far removed from the recent subject
as he could make it, took up a book and seemed to lose himself in it.
Ruth followed his example, the book she took being the elegantly bound
Bible that her father had sent to grace the table. Instinctively she
turned to the chapter from which the haunting verse came, and slowly,
carefully, read it over. Presently what had been a pretense with Judge
Burnham became reality. He was interested in his book, which interest
he evidenced by a burst of laughter.

“This is really rich,” he said. “Listen to this sarcasm, Ruth; see
if you ever heard anything touch deeper.” And then he read from the
sparkling, satirical, popular writer, a dozen sentences of brilliant
sarcasm concerning one of the scientific questions of the day—keen,
sharp, sparkling with wit and strength, but having to do with a subject
for which Ruth had no sympathy at any time, and which especially jarred
upon her this Sabbath afternoon. Her husband looked up from his reading
to meet the answering flash of the eyes which he liked so well to
see kindle, and met the objection on her face, and felt the lack of
sympathy with his enjoyment. “I beg your pardon,” he said, abruptly, “I
had forgotten your Puritan ideas. Possibly I am infringing again on the
sacredness of your Sabbath.”

“I certainly think that the sentiments of that book are not in
accordance with the Bible idea of the sacredness of the day.” If Ruth
could only have kept her voice from sounding as cold as an iceberg, she
might have had some influence.

As it was, he arose with a decided frown on his fine face. “I see,
Ruth,” he said, speaking as coldly as she had herself, “that we
assuredly have nothing in common for this day of the week, whatever
may be said of us on other days. It is a pity that the ‘sacredness of
the Sabbath’ should be the only element of discord between husband and
wife. As I am in continual danger of erring unconsciously, I will have
the grace to leave you in solitude and religious enjoyment,” and with a
courtly bow he left her to herself, and her large, open Bible, and her
sad heart.

A little later Susan came in, and stopping beside her looked down the
page of the Bible. Ruth laid her finger on the words of the morning
text: “It is all true, Susan,” she said gravely. “I don’t believe there
is any person living who realizes it more fully than I do. ‘That which
satisfieth not.’ One may do one’s best, and succeed in accomplishing,
and it is unsatisfying.”

“Have you answered the question, Ruth, dear?”

“Whose question?”

“The Holy Spirit’s—Wherefore, do ye? That is what he asks. Do you
understand why we try to satisfy our souls on husks, instead of wheat?”

“Well,” Ruth said, thoughtfully, “things have to be done.”

“Of course; but why should we stop among the _things_ expecting
satisfaction, or allow them to take other than the subordinate place
they were meant to occupy? Ruth, I think the trouble with you is, you
do not read the whole verse. You feel that you have proved the truth
of the first part of it, in your own experience Why don’t you try the
rest?”

“Just what do you mean?”

“Why, listen; ‘Hearken unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let
your soul delight itself in fatness.’ Don’t you see what an assurance
that is, that the feast is spread? There is prepared that which will
satisfy; why not hearken to the voice of the Master of the feast?”

Ruth lifted to her sister’s face earnest eyes, that filled with tears.

“I _have_ tried to ‘hearken,’” she said, in a voice that was husky
with feeling. “I have heard his voice and have tried to follow him
and, at times, as I have told you before, he has seemed very near, but
the feeling does not stay. I am up on the Mount one day, more than
satisfied, and the next day I have dropped down and lost my comfort.”

“Yes, I know that story in all its details. I have lived it. In my own
case it was because I ceased ‘hearkening’ for his voice. I placed other
things first. I thought first of what _I_ was going to do, or have, or
be, instead of putting Christ first.”

“Ruth, don’t you know He says: ‘For I the Lord thy God am a _jealous
God_?’ How often I have thought of that! He _will not abide_ with a
divided heart; he must be _first_; and, for myself, I did not for years
keep him first. God was not in _all_ my thoughts.”

“I don’t know,” Ruth said, speaking slowly after a long silence, and
she spoke with a long drawn sigh.

“I don’t know that I can ever get back to where I was, even three weeks
ago. Something has dropped like a pall upon my joy in religion. I never
had much joy in anything. Really, it isn’t my nature to be joyful.
Perhaps I should not expect it.”

Susan, smiling, shook her head. “That won’t do, you know. Joy is one of
the fruits that you are commanded to bear. It is not optional with you.
‘The fruit of the Spirit is love’—_joy_—you remember. It is not the joy
of nature that you and I are to look for, but the joy of grace. Ruth,
if I were you, I would not try to go back to three weeks ago, I would
try to go back to Christ and ask him to hold you, and lead you, and
speak for you, and in this, your time of special need, not to let you
drop for one moment away from him.”

But who shall account for the perversity of the human heart? Something
in the simple, earnest words were translated by Satan to mean to Ruth a
reflection against her husband. She lifted her head haughtily and the
tremor went out of her voice. “I don’t know what you mean by my ‘time
of special need;’ I do not know that one’s life, humanly speaking,
could be more carefully shielded than mine. I have no anxiety as to
Judge Burnham’s position in regard to these questions; he will respect
my wishes and follow my plans.”

To this Susan had no answer. Had she spoken at all, she feared she
would have shown Ruth that her own words were not strictly true. She
believed her at this moment to be weighed down with a sense of her
husband’s influence over her.

When the bell tolled for evening service, Susan and the two daughters
of the house came down attired for church.

“Going again?” queried Judge Burnham, with uplifted eyebrows. “Ruth
and I have had enough for to-day.” And Ruth, sitting back in the easy
chair, with a footstool at her feet, and a sofa pillow at her head, and
a volume of sacred poems in her hand, neither raised her eyes nor spoke.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This sentence stayed
persistently with Susan Erskine. What had it to do with Judge Burnham
and his wife that they, too, should remind her of it?



CHAPTER XXV.

“BITTER-SWEET.”


A QUESTION which began to press heavily on Ruth’s mind as the days went
by was: What should she do when Susan went home?

It began to be apparent that all the details connected with the
reconstructed house were completed; and also, that a skillful set of
hired helpers were in their places. But it was equally apparent to her
heart that she shrank from the thought of seeing Susan pack her trunk
and go back to the Erskine homestead; she fitted so perfectly into
the family life; she had already acquired such a remarkable degree of
influence over the girls. They copied her ways and her words, and it
had some time ago become apparent to Ruth that this sister of hers was
in every respect worthy of being copied. Even her dress—taking its
hints from Flossy Shipley’s sweetly-spoken words, about which Ruth knew
nothing—had taken such quietness of tone that, if it was not marked for
its beauty, had perhaps higher praise in that it was not noticed at
all, but had sunken into the minor place it was expected to fill. Ruth,
in thinking the past all over, was amazed at the wholesale way in which
she had finally adopted her sister. Just _when_ she began to like her,
so well that it was a pleasure to have her company and a trial to think
of her absence, she did not know. It seemed to her now as though she
had always felt so; and yet she knew that somewhere along the line of
her life there must have been a decided change of feeling.

“She is just splendid, anyway!” This was the final verdict. “I don’t
care when I began to know it; I know it now. I wish I could have her
with me always. If she and father could live out here with us, how
nice it would be! Father would like the country; it would rest and
strengthen him. But, oh! _that woman!_” Which two words, spoken with an
intensity of emphasis that she allowed only the four walls of her room
to hear, always referred to Mrs. Judge Erskine. She was quite as much
of a trial as ever. Ruth could not conceive of a possibility of there
ever being a time when she should want to see _her_. So she studied
over the problem of how to keep Susan, and, like many another student,
found, after a few days, that it was worked out for her, in a way that
she would not have chosen.

The news burst like a bomb-shell into their midst, without note or
warning. Judge Erskine had lost his fortune! Large though it had been,
it slipped out of his grasp almost in an hour.

“The trouble has to do with small-pox and religion!” Judge Burnham
said, with something very like a sneer on his handsome face. “I don’t
know which development should be blamed the most. During his exile
from the office his clerks made some very foolish moves, as regarded
investments, etc. And, then, the other disease reached such a form that
he was beguiled into putting his name to two or three pieces of paper
for others, on the score of friendship—a piece of idiocy that during
all his sane years he had warned me, and every other business man who
came to him for advice, from being beguiled into; and the result is,
financial ruin.”

“There are worse ruins than that!” Ruth said it haughtily; her
husband’s criticism of her father jarred.

“Oh, that is true enough. There are dishonorable ruins; this one is the
soul of honor, and of philanthropy, for that matter. He has _so_ much
to sustain him, but he can’t live on it. And, Ruth, if you had ever
known what it was to live on nothing, you could sympathize better with
that sort of ruin. The hard part for me to bear would be that it is
all so unnecessary; if he had but lived up to the wisdom and business
keenness which characterized all the earlier years of his life! He
has taken to giving some very strange advice to his clients since he
subscribed to his new views—advice which has taken thousands of dollars
out of his business. ‘Had to do it,’ he told me; his ‘conscience
wouldn’t allow him to do otherwise.’ If that is true, I am really
afraid that I couldn’t afford to have a conscience; it is too expensive
in article.”

How much of this was sincere, and how much was a sort of sarcastic
pleasantry? Ruth wished she knew. It was a new and rather startling
thought that possibly the money which sustained her now had to do with
the fact that her husband couldn’t afford a sensitive conscience!

She put the thought away, as far from her as possible. At least, she
could do nothing with it now; the time for it was past. She tried not
to think what ground she had for expecting a high type of conscience
from one who lived in cool dishonor of the claims of the Lord Jesus
Christ.

The immediate questions were: What would her father do? Also, what was
there that she could do for him?

“Oh, he will give everything up,” Judge Burnham said; “every penny;
house, and landed property, and household goods, down to his very dog.
Even his clothing is in danger. I saw it in his eyes. It is the disease
which has pervaded his system. This new conscience of his won’t let him
do anything sensible.”

“Judge Burnham,” said Ruth, having endured all that she could—she
was not skilled in endurance—“I wish you would remember that you are
speaking of my father, and refrain from sneers. If his code of honor is
higher than yours, he can not help it, I suppose. At least, you should
be able to respect it; or, failing in that, please respect my feelings.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Judge Burnham, quickly startled by the
repressed fierceness of the tones.

“I did not mean to hurt your feelings, Ruth, but you do not understand
business, and your father is really being very absurd with his strained
ideas of equity.”

“I understand conscience, somewhat,” Ruth said, quickly, and she was
stung with the thought that perhaps in the days gone by she had stifled
hers. Now all this was certainly very sad talk to come between husband
and wife not six weeks after their marriage. Ruth felt it and deplored
it and wept over it, and wondered how it would be possible to avoid
subjects on which they did not think and feel alike.

Meantime she ought to go and see her father. From this she shrank. How
could she talk with him from any other standpoint than that in which
she had always known him? A man of wealth and power in the business
world, she felt that he must be utterly bowed down. He had always, in a
lofty, aristocratic way, attached full importance to wealth. How was he
going to endure being suddenly thrown to the bottom of the ladder, when
he had for so many years rested securely on the top round?

However, it was folly for her to avoid such an evident duty. She chose
an hour when Mrs. Erskine would be undoubtedly engaged down-stairs, and
slipped away to the train, having said nothing of her intention to her
husband when he went to town an hour before, and without having as yet
succeeded in arranging a single sentence that she felt would be helpful
to her father, she suddenly and silently presented herself before him,
in the little room off the library which was sacred to his private use.
He sat at the table, writing, his face pale, indeed, but quiet, not
exactly cheerful, yet certainly peaceful.

He glanced up as the door opened, and then arose quickly. “Well,
daughter,” he said, “you have come to see father in his trouble. That
is right. Come in, dear, and have a seat.” And with the old-time
courtesy he drew an easy chair for her and waited while she seated
herself. Then he sat down again, in his large arm-chair, before her.

“Yes,” he said, “I must begin again. I shall not get to where I was
before. On your account I regret it. I wanted to leave you a fortune
to do good with, but your husband has enough, and it is all right. The
Lord can choose what money he will have spent for him.”

“You certainly need not think of me, father. As you say, Judge Burnham
has enough.” And even at this moment there was a pang in Ruth’s heart
that she would not have had her father see for worlds, as she wondered
how much power she could have over _his_ wealth to turn it into sources
for good.

“My chief anxiety is, What are you going to do?”

“Well,” he said, and there was a gleam of a smile on his face, “I am
going to climb up again with my wife’s help. It isn’t poverty, you
know, thanks to her. Isn’t it marvelous how she can have saved so much
out of the paltry yearly sums? Haven’t you heard about it? Why, she
actually has at interest about fourteen thousand dollars; invested in
my name, too. Isn’t that a reward for the indignities I heaped upon
her?” His voice broke, and the tears started in his eyes. “I tell you,”
he said, tremulously, “I bore it all better than that. I knew I was not
to blame for the financial downfall, but to find that the woman whom I
had wronged had been all these years heaping coals of fire on my head
just unmanned me,” and he wiped the great tears from his cheeks, while
Ruth moved restlessly in her seat. She did not like to hear about his
having wronged “that woman,” neither did she like to have her father
beholden to _her_ for support.

“It is fortunate that she saved it,” she said, and her voice was most
unsympathetic. “But, after all, father, it is your money.”

“No, daughter, no; not a penny of it. Ten times that sum ought to
belong to her. Think of trying to make _money_ repair the injury which
I was doing her! But it is most comforting to feel that I am to be
beholden to her, rather than to any other human being.”

Ruth did not think so.

“I have been wonderfully sustained, Ruth,” her father continued. “I
said last night that it was almost worth losing a fortune to see how
calmly the Lord Jesus could hold me. I haven’t had a doubt nor an
anxiety as to its being the right way from the first hour that I knew
of the loss. Of course I don’t see _why_ it should come, and really,
I don’t believe I care to know. Why should I, when I can so entirely
trust to His wisdom and love? There is another thing, daughter—the
sweet came with the bitter, and was so much more important that it
over-balanced. Did you know that your mother had come into the sunlight
of His love? She told me about it that very evening, and she says she
owes her knowledge of the way to me. Isn’t that a wonderful boon for
the Lord to bestow on such as I?”

Ruth turned almost away from him, with an unaccountable irritability
tugging at her heart. “Your mother!” he had never used those words to
her before. They had slipped out now, unconsciously. He had grown used
to their sound in speaking to Susan; he did not see how they jarred.
It frightened his daughter to realize how little she seemed to care
whether a soul had been new-born or not; she could not take in its
importance.

“I am sure I am very glad,” she said, but her voice bore not the
slightest trace of gladness. Then she went home, feeling that her
spirit was not in accord with the tone of that house. “He doesn’t need
_my_ comfort,” she told herself, and she said it almost bitterly.
It was true enough, he didn’t. Not that he did not appreciate human
sympathy and human love, but a greater than human strength had laid
hold upon his weakness, and he was upborne. This, too, Ruth recognized,
and even while she rejoiced in it, there mingled with the joy a strange
pain.

Following the money downfall came plans that were quite in accord with
her wishes. They sprang into being apparently through a chance remark.
It began with Ruth, in a heavy sigh, as she said, she and Susan being
alone:

“I don’t know how to take the next step for those girls. It is absurd
to think of sending them to school. At their age, and with their
limited knowledge, they would be simply objects of ridicule. We must
find a resident governess for them. But where to look for one who will
have to teach young ladies what, in these days, quite little children
are supposed to know, and yet remember that they are young ladies, and
treat them as such, is a puzzle. I am sure I don’t know where to look,
nor how to describe what we need, the circumstances are so peculiar.”

Then she waited for Susan to answer; and so accustomed had she grown
to being helped by that young lady’s suggestions, that she waited
hopefully, though without having the least conception of how a
comparative stranger in the city could help in this emergency.

“There are plenty to get,” Susan said. “At least I suppose the world is
full of teachers, if you only knew just where to look for them.”

“Oh, _teachers_. Yes, there are plenty of them, if a teacher was all
that was needed. But, you know, Susan, the case is a very unusual one.
We really need a woman who knows a good deal about every thing, and who
is as wise as a serpent. There is a chance to ruin the girls, and make
trouble for Judge Burnham and misery for me, if we do not get just the
right sort of person; and I am in doubt as to whether there _is_ any
right sort to be had.”

Whereupon Susan laughed, and blushed a little, as she said:

“After such an alarming statement of the requirements, I am not sure
that I have the courage to propose a friend of mine. She doesn’t lay
claim to any of the gifts which you suggest.”

Ruth looked up, relieved and smiling.

“Do you really know a teacher, Susan, whom you can recommend? I forgot
that your acquaintance was extensive among scholars. You need not
hesitate to suggest, for I assure you that your recommendation would
go further with Judge Burnham and myself than any one we know, for
you understand the situation, and your judgment is to be relied upon.
Of whom are you thinking, and where is she to be found? I can almost
promise her a situation.”

Whereupon Susan laughed outright.

“Really,” she said, “you make it very embarrassing work for me. I not
only have to recommend myself, but actually force myself upon your
observation. But, since I intend to teach in the future, as I have done
in the past, why not try me for awhile, since I am here? I think I
would do until the girls were ready for somebody who could do better.”

If she had been watching her sister’s face she would have seen the
puzzled look change to one of radiant delight. Then that sister did
what, to one of her undemonstrative nature, was a strange thing to
do—she crossed to Susan’s side, and bending down, kissed her eagerly on
either cheek.

“I believe I am an idiot!” she said. “Though I used to think I was
capable of planning as well as most persons, but I never once thought
of it! And I knew you meant to teach, too. It is the very thing.
Nothing could be more delightful! Judge Burnham will think so, too. Oh,
Susan, you are one of my greatest comforts!”



CHAPTER XXVI.

“THESE BE THY GODS.”


AT last in Ruth Burnham’s home, life settled into routine. Everything
was as she had planned it. She had tried two ways of life. For a
season almost everything had gone contrary to her desires and plans.
Then there came this period wherein she was permitted to carry out, in
detail, all the schemes which seemed to her wise. In the earlier days
of her Christian experience she had felt, if she did not say, that if
she could but have the control of her own affairs, humanly speaking,
she could make things work together in a different and more helpful
manner for herself and her friends. It was as if the Lord had taken
her at her word and opened the door for her to plan and carry out
according to her will. The question was, Did she find it a success?
Was she now, at last, a happy, growing Christian—one whose influence
was felt in all the departments of her life? Oh, I am afraid that Ruth
hated to admit, even to her own heart, how far from success she felt!
Painful though the admission was, she had to make it to her conscience
that she was neither a growing nor a happy Christian.

What was the trouble? Why, in her heart and in her life there was
conflict. She knew the right, and too often she did it not. Give me
such an experience as that, and you may be sure that you have given the
record of an unhappy and an unfruitful life. There were so many ways in
which Ruth could see that she had erred. She meant to commence in just
the right way; she had taken great credit to herself for her sacrifice
of personal ease and pleasure, for the taking up of hard crosses in
connection with Judge Burnham’s duties; yet now she saw that there were
crosses far more important which she had not taken up at all.

Almost as often as she knelt alone in her own room to pray she knelt
in tears. First, because she was always alone; her husband never bowed
with her, never read the Bible with her. Was this, in part, her fault?
What if, in those first days when everything was new, and when he was
on the alert to be her comfort, she had asked him to read with her, to
kneel with her, and hear her pray? Was it not possible that he might
have done so? Well, those first days were not so long gone by. Was it
not just possible that he might join her now?

Alas for Ruth! Though the days of her married life had been so few,
she could look back upon them and see inconsistencies in word and
manner and action which went far toward sealing her lips. Not that
they should, but is it not the painful experience of each one of us
that they so often do? If Ruth had but commenced right! It is so hard
to make a beginning, in the middle of a life. Besides, there had been
many words spoken by Judge Burnham which would serve to make it harder
for him to yield to any innovations. If she had but beguiled him before
these words were spoken! Then, indeed, it is possible that some of
them at least would never have been uttered. Only a few weeks a wife,
and for how many of her husband’s sins was she already in a measure
responsible?

Then the girls were a source of pain to Ruth’s conscience. Not that
they had not learned well her first lessons. It surprised, at times
it almost alarmed her, to see with what eagerness they caught at the
ribbons and ruffles, and all the outside adornments of life. They
were entirely willing to give these, each and all, important place in
their thoughts. She had given them intoxicating glimpses of the world
of fashion before their heads or hearts were poised enough not to be
over-balanced. They had caught at the glimpse and made a fairyland of
beauty out of it, and had resolved with all their young, strong might
to “belong” to that fairyland, and they looked up to and reverenced
Ruth as the queen who had the power of opening these enchanted doors
to them. You are to remember that, though backward, they were by no
means brainless. Having been kept in such marked seclusion all their
lives, until this sudden opening of the outer doors upon them, and this
sudden flinging them into the very midst of the whirl of “what to wear
and how to make it,” hearing little else during these first bewildering
days than the questions concerning this shade and that tint, and
the comparative merits of ruffles or plaits, and the comparative
qualities of silks and velvets, and the absolute necessity of perfect
fitting boots and gloves and hats, what wonder that they jumped to the
conclusion, that these things were the marks of power in the world, and
were second in importance to nothing?

Having plunged into her work with the same energy which characterized
all Ruth’s movements, how was she now to teach the lesson that these
things were absolutely as nothings compared with a hundred other
questions having to do with their lives?

She worked at this problem, and saw no more how to do it than she saw
how to take back the first few weeks of married life and personal
influence over her husband and live them over again. There was no
solace in trying to talk her difficulties over with Susan, because
she, while intensely sympathetic in regard to every-day matters,
was gravely silent when Ruth wondered why the girls were so suddenly
absorbed in the trivialities of life to the exclusion of more important
things. And Ruth felt that her sister recognized _her_ share in the
matter and deplored it.

About her husband she chose to be entirely silent herself. If pride
had not kept her so, the sense of wifely vows would have sealed her
lips. At least she had high and sacred ideas of marriage vows. Alas for
Ruth, there were other disquieting elements. She realized her husband’s
influence on herself. Try as she would, resolve as she might, steadily
she slipped away from her former moorings. Little things, so called,
were the occasions of the lapses, but they were not little in their
effect on her spiritual life.

“How is it possible that you can desire to go to that stuffy little
room and meet a dozen illiterate men and women or, is it a mistaken
sense of duty which impels you?”

This was her husband’s question regarding the suggestion of Ruth that
they go to the weekly prayer-meeting. His tone was not unkind, but
there was just a touch of raillery in it, which was at all times harder
for Ruth to bear than positive coldness.

“You must be content to tolerate my tastes,” she said, “since you can
not sympathize with them. Endurance is the most that I can expect.”

He laughed good-naturedly.

“Now, Ruth, dear, don’t be cross. I haven’t the least idea of being
so, and I propose to humor your whims to the last degree. I will
even escort you to that most uninviting room and call for you again,
enduring, meantime, with what grace I can the sorrows of my country
solitude. What more can you expect? But in return for such magnanimity
you might enlighten my curiosity. Why do you go? How can I help being
curious? In town, now, it was different. While I might even there
question your choice of entertainments, at least you met people of
culture, with whom you had certain ideas in common. But really and
truly, my dear wife, I am at home in this region of country, so far
as knowledge of the mental caliber of the people is concerned, and
I assure you you will look in vain for a man or woman of brains.
Outside of the minister—who is well enough, I suppose, though he is
a perfect bore to me—there is a general and most alarming paucity of
ideas. Besides which, there is no gas in the church, you know, and
kerosene lamps are fearful at their best, and these, I judge, are at
their worst. So, taking the subject in all its bearings, I think I am
justified in asking what can be your motive?”

Is it any wonder that there were tears in Ruth’s eyes, as she
turned them toward her husband? How explain to one who would not
understand the meaning of her terms why she sought the little country
prayer-meeting?

“Judge Burnham,” she said, speaking slowly, and trying to choose the
words with care, “is it unknown to you that I profess to expect to meet
there with the Lord Jesus Christ?”

“Oh, that indeed!” he said, and the lightness of his tone so jarred on
her that she shivered. “I believe that is an article in your creed. I
don’t discredit it in its intellectual and spiritual sense, but what
does it prove? I suppose you meet him equally in this room, and I
suppose the surroundings of this room are as conducive to communion
with the Unseen Presence as are those of that forlorn little square box
of a church. Isn’t that the most doleful building for a church that
it was ever your misery to see? It is abominably ventilated; for that
matter churches nearly always are. I wonder if there is any thing in
church creeds that conscientiously holds people from observing the laws
of health and comfort? I don’t believe there is an opera-house in the
United States that would be tolerated for a season, if the question of
light and heat and ventilation had been ignored in it as entirely as
they are in churches.”

What was there to be said to such as he? Perhaps Ruth said the best
thing under the circumstances. “Well, come, don’t let us discuss the
subject further; there is the bell; please take me down to the poor
little church, for I really want to go.”

“Certainly,” he said, rising promptly, and making ready with a
good-natured air. He attended her to the very door and was on its
threshold in waiting when the hour of prayer was over, and was gracious
and attentive in the extreme during the rest of the evening, making no
allusion to the prayer-meeting, after the first few mischievous and
pointed questions as to the exercises, questions which tried Ruth’s
nerves to the utmost, for the reason that the little meeting had been
so utterly devoid of anything like life and earnestness that it was a
trial rather than a help to her.

Conversations not unlike these were common on prayer-meeting evening,
always conducted on Judge Burnham’s part, in the most gracious spirit,
ending by accompanying her to the church door. She ceased to ask him to
enter, for the reason that she was not sure but it would be a positive
injury to him to do so. One Wednesday evening he followed her to the
parlor with a petition:

“Now, wifie, I have been most patiently good every ‘meeting’ evening,
since I had you all to myself, having given you up, if not willingly,
at least uncomplainingly, to the companionship of those who are neither
elevating nor inspiriting. Now it is your turn to show yourself
unselfish. I’m a victim to one of my old-fashioned headaches, to-night,
and want you to take care of me.”

To which proposition Ruth instantly agreed—the pang of conscience which
she felt being not on account of the wife’s obvious duty to care for
a sick husband, but because of the instant throb of relief of which
she was conscious in having a legitimate reason for escaping the
prayer-meeting. It was too painfully apparent, even to her own heart,
that she had not enjoyed the hour of religious communion; that she had
sighed inwardly when the door closed after her retreating husband, and
she had gone back eagerly to his companionship, directly after the
hour of separation was over. It transpired that, on this occasion,
his headache was not so severe, but that it admitted of his being
entertained by his wife’s voice reading aloud, and he was presently so
far recovered as to sit up and join in her reading, giving her a lesson
in the true rendering of Shakespeare, which was most enjoyable to both.
On the following Wednesday there was a concert of unusual interest
in the city, and Ruth obeyed her husband’s summons by telegraph to
come down on the six o’clock train and attend. Of course it would not
do to have him wait in the city for her and disappoint him. Another
Wednesday, and she went again to the little meeting; but it had in
the interim grown more distasteful to her; and, indeed, there was this
excuse for poor Ruth, that the meeting was one of the dullest of its
kind; there were no outside influences helping her. It was a matter
of hard duty between her and her conscience. Perhaps when we consider
that human nature is what it is, we should not think it strange that
six weeks after the concert found Ruth accepting an invitation to a
select party in town, forgetting utterly, until, in her estimation, the
acceptance was beyond recall, that it was Wednesday evening. When she
remembered it, she told her long-suffering conscience somewhat roughly,
that “wives certainly had duties which they owed to their husbands.” I
have given you now only a specimen out of many influences which slowly
and surely drew Ruth down stream. Susan, looking on, feeling for the
present powerless, except as that ever-present resource—prayer—was left
her, felt oftener perhaps than any other command, the force of that one
sentence: “Thou shall have no other gods _before me_.”

Yet was not Ruth Burnham happy. Perhaps she had never, in her most
discontented hours, been further from happiness. Her conscience
was too enlightened, and had, in the last two years, been too well
cultivated for her not to know that she was going contrary very often
to her former ideas of right.

Too surely she felt that her husband’s views, her husband’s tastes, her
husband’s plans of life were at variance with hers. It was all very
well to talk about his yielding, and being led; he could yield to the
inevitable; and there is a way of appearing to yield, gracefully, too,
which develops itself as only a master-stroke to the end that one may
gain one’s own way. This method Judge Burnham understood in all its
details.

His wife early in their married life began to realize it. She began to
understand that he was, in a quiet, persistent way, actually _jealous_
of the demands which her religion made upon her time and heart. It was
not that he deliberately meant to overthrow this power which held her;
rather he sought in a patient way to undermine it. Perhaps if Ruth had
realized this, she might have been more on her guard. But Satan had
succeeded in blinding her eyes by that most specious of all reasonings
that she must, by her concession to his tastes and plans, win him over
to her ways of thinking. In other words, she must, by doing wrong,
convince him of the beauty that there is in a consistent Christian
life, and win him to the right way! In matters pertaining to this life
Ruth’s lip would have curled in scorn over such logic. Why was it that
she could not see plainly the ground whereon she trod?

Is there, then, no rest in the Christian life? Is the promise, “Come
unto me, and I will give you rest,” utterly void and worthless? Has not
God called his children to “peace?” Is there no “peace which passeth
understanding,” such as the world can neither give nor take away?

Why did not Ruth Burnham, with her educated mind and clear brain,
ponder these things, and determine whether, when she told herself, that
of course one must expect conflict and heart-wars in this life, she was
not thereby making the eternal God false to his covenants?

What was the trouble? Why, the same thing which comes in so continually
with its weary distractions—a divided heart. “Whosoever therefore will
be a friend of the world is the enemy of God!” That old solemn truth
remains to-day, after eighteen hundred years of experience, a _truth_
which many a world-tossed soul has proved; and Ruth Burnham had need to
learn that it matters not whether the world be represented by a general
glitter, or by a loving husband, so that the object of special choice
was placed “_before_” _Him_, solemn effect must follow.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE BAPTISM OF SUFFERING.


IN the course of time it became to Susan Erskine, who was watching
with eager interest the story of her sister’s life, a question of
painful moment as to how the watchful Christ would come to the rescue
of his straying sheep. For, as the days passed, it grew most painfully
apparent that Ruth _was_ straying. She did not gain in the least.
This being the case, it is of course equivalent to saying that she
lost. Steadily her husband proved the fact that his was the stronger
nature, and that he was leading, not being led. Yet his wife did not
get entirely out of the way—not far enough out indeed, to claim the
few pitiful returns that the world has for service. She staid always
in that wretched middle state, not belonging to the world fully, nor
yet fully to Christ; hence, continuous soreness of heart, developing
alternately in gloom and irritability.

There came at last a messenger to her home and heart—a little, tender,
helpless one, just helpless enough and clinging enough to gather all
the tendrils of the heart around and bind them closely. How that
baby was loved! There have been babies loved before—many a heart has
bowed before the shrine of such an idol; but perhaps never baby, from
grandfather down to the little hired nurse, whose duty it was in the
course of time to keep said baby amused, had such patient, persistent,
willing slaves as had this young heir of the house of Burnham. As
for Ruth, she found that she had never even _dreamed_ of the depth
of mother-love. A sort of general interest in healthy, cleanly,
well-dressed children had been one of her pastimes. She had imagined
herself somewhat fond of certain types of childhood, while aware that
she shrank in horror from certain other types. But this new, strange
rush of emotions which filled her heart almost to bursting was an
experience of which she had had no conception. From that hour those
who watched Ruth anxiously to see whether the sweet young life which
was a part of herself would win her back to her covenant vows, saw
with ever-deepening pain that this new-born soul was only another and
a stronger idol. With all the fierceness of her strong nature, with
all the unrest of her dissatisfied heart, did the mother bow before
this tiny soul and bring it worship. She discovered at last that
self-sacrifice was easy; that sleepless nights, and restless days,
and the pressure of many cares and responsibilities were as nothing,
provided baby’s comfort demanded any or all of these.

Now she withdrew entirely from the prayer-meetings, and ceased her
fitful attempts at being identified with the Sabbath-school. She was
even most rare in her attendance on the regular Sabbath service. Did
not baby require a mother’s care? This was her trust—God-given surely,
if anything ever was—and therefore she was to consider it as a work
from him.

There is no error so fatal as a _half_ truth. To be sure, this
theory was not carried out in all respects. The mother found time for
social life. She was seen frequently at concerts and lectures, and
entertainments of various sorts, but this, she said, was a duty she
owed to her husband. And it really seemed as though there were no voice
left in her heart to remind her that the duties she owed to Christ were
being neglected. And Susan, watching and waiting, began to ask her
heart half fearfully, “How will he speak to her next?” That he _would_
speak to her, and that effectually, she fully believed, for Ruth was
surely one of his own. How strange that she _would_ wander and make
it necessary for the Shepherd to seek her with bleeding feet, “over
the mountains, wild and bare,” instead of resting securely and sweetly
within the fold!

Meantime the domestic machinery of the Burnham household worked more
smoothly than it is always wont to do under the peculiar family
relations.

Ruth, whatever her faults, was fully alive to the special cause of
comfort in her household. She never ceased to realize that one of the
greatest blessings of her lot in life was the sudden descent upon her
of a sister. Such a faithful, thoughtful, self-sacrificing sister!—one
who really seemed to be as “wise as a serpent, and as harmless as a
dove.” Even Ruth, though she had an idea that she fully appreciated
her, did not see the extent of her influence over those untutored
girls. Daily her power over them increased; the development in them
mentally was something of which their father was unceasingly proud;
not the less, perhaps, did it give him satisfaction because there
was coupled with it a development of refinement of tone and manner,
a growing sense of the fitness of things, and an evident and hearty
relish for the advantages which his wealth was able to afford them.

Over one thing Susan pondered and prayed, and watched with no little
anxiety: the girls were willing to be her pupils in any other study
save that of personal religion; they were in a degree interested in
Bible study; they by no means shrank from it; they respected her views,
they talked freely with her as to creeds and doctrines; but when it
came to pressing their personal need of Christ as a Saviour from sin,
they were strangely apathetic.

“Had they inherited their father’s distaste for all the personalities
of religion?” Susan questioned, “or had their first delicious glimpse
of this new world, given under the new mother’s tutelage, so stamped
their ambitions that they had no room for deeper thoughts?” From this
last solution she shrank; it made such an awfully solemn matter of
personal responsibility; yet when she saw the almost reverence in which
they held this new mother’s views of whatever pertained to outside
life, she could not but feel that there had been stamped upon their
hearts the belief that she who had reigned so long in the fashionable
world knew all about the important things, and _had shown them what
they were_! At least, Susan felt sure that, could Ruth have realized
the influences she possessed over the unformed minds of her two
daughters, she would have shrunken from using it for trivialities.

As for Ruth, the girls had become secondary matters to her. She had
carried her point; she had proved that dress and attention to the many
refinements of life would make a vast difference in these two; she had
shown their father that it was through sheer neglect that they grew to
be the painful trials which they were; she had proved to him that her
course was the right one. There was no skeleton in their country home
now, to be avoided painfully. The girls were not perfect in deportment,
it is true; but so rapid had been their advancement in certain ways,
and so skillful was the brain which planned their outward adornings,
that they might safely endure introductions as Judge Burnham’s
daughters, in any circle where it was desirable to present them. Ruth
felt, watching them, that even the famous criminal lawyer himself
would never have recognized in them the two distressing specimens
which he had characterized as “discarded American help.” She had shown
her husband, also, that country life was not only endurable, but, in
many respects, desirable; indeed, so satisfied had he become with his
lovely rural home, that, when it was announced as important for baby’s
health that the entire season should be spent there, he offered no
objection, and agreed with alacrity to Ruth’s plan that Susan should
take the girls for a peep at life at Long Branch, and leave them to the
solitude of home. “Very well,” he had said, “provided you will, on
their return, leave Susan in charge of his lordship, and run away with
me to the mountains for a few days.” And Ruth had laughed, and shrugged
her handsome shoulders, and exclaimed over the folly of trying to coax
a mother from her six-months-old baby, for any mountains in the world;
and then she had looked proudly over toward the lace-curtained crib,
and rejoiced in the fact that the hero sleeping there had power enough
to hold father as well as mother a meek worshipper at his shrine; for,
if Judge Burnham really _was_ an idolater, his only son was the supreme
idol in his inmost heart.

So the summer plans were carried out. Ruth serenely discussed seaside
outfits, and decided, with the tone of one who realized that her word
was law, as to whether Minta would look better in a salmon-colored
evening dress, and whether Seraph was too young for a satin-trimmed
one. Long ago Susan, apparently without thought on the subject,
had started the habit of softening the objectional name into this
euphonious one; and Ruth remarked to her husband that perhaps time
would develop the fact that there was almost a prophecy in the name,
if Sereph’s voice continued to develop in strength and sweetness, under
culture. On the whole, there was serene satisfaction in the survey
of her handiwork where these girls were concerned; they bade fair to
do justice to her discernment, and afford food for pride. Still, as
I said, they were secondary. So that they were always well dressed,
and sat properly at table, and entered a room properly, and bowed
gracefully to her callers, and treated her with unfailing respect,
she was at rest concerning them. _Almost_, she had so trodden her
conscience under foot that in these days had she really very little
trouble in the thought that her _best_ for them had ignored the _best_
which life had for any soul.

Susan packed, and arranged, and listened to her numerous directions,
and went off to take her first summering away from cares, which of
one sort or another had held her for a lifetime—went with a shade of
anxiety on her face which was not for herself, nor yet because of her
responsibility in regard to these two unfledged worldlings, but for the
Christian mother hovering over the lace-curtained crib in the rose-hued
nursery; and her heart went murmuring, “How will He speak to her next?”

Not many days after, the next call of the Shepherd came. You are
prepared to hear what it was—that little, sheltered, watched-over
baby fell sick; not very sick; not so but that the doctor went and
came with a cheery air, and told the anxious mother that they would
have her darling as chirk as ever in a day or two, and Judge Burnham
believed him, and laughed at the mother’s dreary face, and made light
of her fears; but poor Ruth did _not_ believe him, and went about her
mother cares and hung over her sick darling with an ever-increasing,
deadening weight at her heart. He was not the family physician of the
Erskines—Dr. Mitchell—Judge Burnham didn’t believe in _him_, so the
coming and going doctor was the one associated with the dark days
wherein they had waited and watched over Ruth’s father.

Whether it was that association, or whatever it was, Ruth shrank
a little from Dr. Bacon, and was not able to give him her full
confidence. Dark days were these, and they dragged their slow lengths
along, and brought regularly the longer and darker nights, for it is
at night that we hang most hopelessly over our sick, and the silence
and quietness of the home grew oppressive to Ruth. She wished for
Susan, she would gladly have had the girls coming and going, yet it
seemed foolish to send for them; there was a skillful nurse, and there
were neighbors, who, though they had been almost ignored by the fine
family at the Hill, yet directly they heard that there was sickness,
came and went with their thoughtful offers of assistance. Why, even
Mrs. Ferris, with her loud voice and her uncouth ways, came and was
welcomed by Ruth, because of the humble work which she did in the
kitchen that tended to baby’s comfort.

And still the doctor came and went with his story that the baby would
be all right in a few days; but the days of mending did not come, and
the shadow deepened and darkened, though as yet it seemed to be seen
only by the mother’s heart, and in that heart a war was being waged
which in fierceness and length of conflict so far transcended all
Ruth’s other struggles with life as to make them pale into nothingness
before her. And the struggle was such that no human heart could
intermeddle, for it was between Ruth and God! She realized in those
days that she had actually had many a struggle with the great God
before, without recognizing it as such, or at least calling it by its
right name.

At first there was wild, fierce rebellion; she clung to her baby, held
him, indeed, so fiercely that he wailed feebly, and looked up into her
face almost in terror, and she cried out that she could not—indeed,
_would not_—give him up; no, not even to the Giver! And the little
face grew daily more wasted, and the little hands more feeble, and the
moments of wakeful recognition shorter, and the hours of half stupor
longer, and the doctor grew less cheery when he came, and Judge Burnham
grew restless and nervous—went later every day to town and returned
earlier, and was, in his silent, restrained, yet passionate way, fully
as rebellious as his wife.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

“THE OIL OF JOY.”


EVEN yet the doctor had said no word of discouragement. And Judge
Burnham had, though he had ceased laughing at Ruth fears, sharply
controverted them. And she?—she felt she would have stricken down any
one who had breathed a word of danger. It was fearful enough to feel
it; let no one dare to _speak_ it. Once when Judge Burnham—filled with
pity for her loneliness during the hours when he was obliged to be
away—suggested recalling the travellers, she turned toward him fiercely:

“Why?” she asked him; “what do you mean? Are you keeping something from
me? Does the Doctor tell you what he does not me? Judge Burnham, I
will never forgive you if you deceive me.”

“Why, no,” he said, “Ruth, no; why will you be so unreasonable? The
Doctor says he sees no ground as yet for special anxiety. He says to me
just what he says to you. No one thinks of deception. I only felt that
it would be less lonely with the girls at home; and Susan would be a
comfort.”

“Comfort!” she said, still speaking sharply. “Why have I need of
comfort? I have my baby, and I can take care of him; and as for
loneliness, the house is full from morning till night. One would think
people never heard of a sick child before. They are always sick when
teething. Why should we be so unreasonably frightened?”

And Judge Burnham turned away sighing, patient with his wife, for he
saw that she was too wildly frightened to talk or act like a reasonable
being.

Among all the comers and goers there was one who did not come. That
was Mrs. Judge Erskine. Not that she would not have willingly been
there both day and night; but poor Ruth, who had never recovered in the
least from her early discomfort concerning the woman, in this time of
her frenzy felt the dislike increasing to almost hatred. She tortured
herself at times with imagining the exclamations that the odious
grandmother would make over the change in her darling, until at last
it grew to be almost an insanity to her; and she fiercely ordered that
no word of any sort should be taken to her home. “Father shall not be
needlessly troubled,” was outward reason enough, for Judge Erskine was
not strong this season; so, beyond the knowledge that the child was not
very well, was teething, and kept Ruth closely at home, the two people
left in the old Erskine homestead together knew nothing.

Slowly yet surely, the Shepherd was reaching after his stray sheep. By
degrees her mood and her prayers changed; they lost their fierceness,
but not one whit of their will-power. She began to feel herself in the
hands of God. She gave up her defiance, and came to him as a suppliant.
She sat alone in the shadows of a long night of watching, and looked
over her life, and saw plainly her mistakes, her wanderings, her sins.
Then she fell on her knees beside that crib, one watching eye and
listening ear intent on every change of expression or breathing in the
darling, and then and there she proceeded to make terms with God. If
he would only give her back her darling, her boy, she would live, oh
_such_ a different life!—a life of entire consecration. All she had,
and was, and hoped to be, her husband, her baby—everything should be
consecrated, be held second to his love. Long she knelt there praying,
but no answering voice spoke peace to her heart. And the struggle,
though changed in its form, went on and on by degrees, and Ruth with
her long preoccupied heart was very slow to learn the lesson. She was
made to understand that God had never promised to compromise with his
own, never promised to hear a prayer which began with an “if.” Entire
consecration meant all the ifs thrown down at the feet of the Lord,
for him to control as he would. Solemnly his voice spoke to her heart,
spoke as plainly as though the sound of it had echoed in the silent
room: “And _if_ I take your darling into my arms of infinite love, and
shield him for you in heaven, what then?” And Ruth realized with a
shudder that then, her heart said it would only be infinite mercy that
could keep her from hating God! But when she realized this solemn,
this _awful_ truth, which proved rebellion in the heart that had long
professed allegiance, God be thanked that she did not get up from her
kneeling and go away again with the burden. She knelt still, and, with
the solemn light of the All-seeing Eye flashing down into her soul, she
confessed it all—her rebellion, her selfish determination to hold her
treasure whether God would or not, her selfish desire to compromise,
her cowardly, pitiful subterfuge of promising him that which was
already his by right, _if_ he would submit to her plans. The long, sad,
sinful story was laid bare before him, and then her torn heart said:
“Oh, Christ, I can not help it; I hold to my darling, and I _can not_
give him up, even when I would. Oh, thou Saviour of human souls, even
in their sinfulness, what shall I do?” Did ever such heart-cry go up to
the Saviour of souls in vain?

You do not need me to tell you that before the dawn of the coming
morning filled the room a voice of power had spoken peace. The plans,
and the subterfuges, and the rebellings, and the “ifs,” all were gone.
“As thou wilt,” was the only voice left in that thoroughly bared and
bleeding heart.

It was even then that the shadow fell the darkest. When the doctor came
next morning, for the first time he shook his head.

“Things do not look so hopeful as they did, here,” he said.

And Judge Burnham, turning quickly toward his wife, looking to see her
faint or lose her reason (he hardly knew which phase of despair to
expect), saw the pale, changed face.

“Is there no hope, Doctor?” and her voice though low, was certainly
calmer than it had been for days.

“Well,” said the Doctor, relieved at her method of receiving his
warning, “I never like to say that. While there is life there is hope,
you know; but the fact is, I am disappointed in the turn that the
trouble has taken. I am a good deal afraid of results.”

Had Ruth spoken her thoughts, she would have said: “I have been awfully
afraid of results for a week; but a voice of greater power than yours
has spoken to me now. It rests with Him, not you; and I think he wants
my darling.” What she _did_ say was:

“Ought the girls to be summoned?”

“Well,” said Dr. Bacon, regarding her curiously, “if it is important
that they should be here, I think I should telegraph.”

Then, presuming upon long acquaintance with Judge Burnham, he said, as
they passed down the hall together:

“Upon my word, Burnham, you have the most unaccountable wife in the
world.”

“Comments are unnecessary, Doctor,” Judge Burnham said, in his
haughtiest tones, and the next instant the front door closed with a
bang, and the father had shut himself and his pain into the little
room at the end of the hall. What was _he_ to do? which way turn?
how live? He had never until this moment had other than a passing
anxiety. Now the whole crushing weight of the coming blow seemed to
fall on him, and he had not the force of habit, nor the knowledge of
past experiences, to drive him to his knees for a refuge. Instead, his
fierce heart raved. If Ruth had been in danger of hating God, he felt,
yes, actually realized, that his heart was filled at this moment with
a fierce and bitter hatred. Can you imagine what the trials of that
day were to Ruth? Have you any knowledge of what a shock it is to a
torn and bleeding heart, which yet feels that the Almighty Father, the
Everlasting Saviour, holds her and her treasure in the hollow of his
hand, to come in contact with one who fiercely, blasphemously tramples
on that trust? In this moment of supreme pain, it was given to Ruth’s
conscience to remember that she had chosen for her closest friend one
who made no profession of loyalty to her Redeemer—the _Lover_ of her
child. Why should she expect to rest on him now?

This day, like all the other dark ones, drew toward its closing; the
Doctor watched and waited for, and dispatched for, did not come, and
the night drew about them; and it so happened that, save the nurse and
the household servants, the father and mother were alone with their
baby. Early in the afternoon, a sudden remembrance had come to Ruth,
and she had turned from the crib long enough to say, “Let father
know.” And the messenger had gone, but even from him there was no
response.

So they watched and waited. Judge Burnham, in feverish madness of
anxiety, paced the floor, and alternately raged at the absent Doctor
for not coming, and then wished he might never look upon his face
again. Ruth staid on her knees beside that crib, from which for hours
she had not moved, and her lips continually formed that inaudible
prayer, “Thy will be done.” And really and truly the awful bitterness
of the agony was gone out of her heart. There was a sound of wheels
crunching the graveled drive—a bustle outside; somebody had come.
Ruth glanced up, half fearfully. What was coming to break the solemn
holiness of the hour? Not the Doctor, surely, with such bustle of
noise. The door opened quickly, and they pressed in—her father, a tall
stranger just beside him, and Mrs. Judge Erskine! _She_ pushed past
them both.

“Dear heart,” she said, bending down to the crib, but her words were
for Ruth, not the baby. “We just got the word. I brought Dr. Parmelee;
I couldn’t help it, child; I’ve seen him do such wonderful things.
Your pa don’t believe in his medicines—little bits of pills, you
know—and he said your husband didn’t but, la! what difference does that
make? Men never do. They believe in getting ’em well, though. Come
here, Dr. Parmelee. His pulse is real strong, and he looks to me as
though he might—”

And here Mrs. Erskine paused for breath. She had been, in the meantime,
throwing off her wraps, touching the baby’s hand with skillful fingers,
touching the hot head, and rising at last to motion the Doctor
forward—the tall stranger. He came hesitatingly, looking toward the
father; but Judge Burnham caught at his name.

“Anything, Doctor—anything!” he said, hoarsely. “Dr. Bacon has proved
himself an idiot. It is too late now; but, in heaven’s name, do
something.”

Did it ever occur to you as strange that such men as Judge Burnham, in
their hours of great mental pain, are very apt to call for blessings in
“heaven’s name?”

It was a strange hour! Ruth, who had been hushed into silence and
solemnity by the presence of the Death Angel, found herself whirled
into the very midst of the struggle for life. Dr. Parmelee declared,
with Mrs. Erskine, that there was still a good deal of strength,
and he hoped. And then he stopped talking and went to work—quietly,
skillfully, without commotion of any sort, yet issuing his orders with
such swiftness and skill that mother and nurse, especially the former,
were set to work to _do_ instead of think. Especially was Mrs. Erskine
alert, seeming to know by a sort of instinct, such as is noticeable
in nurses who have a special calling for their work, what the Doctor
wanted done, and how to do it. Far into the night they obeyed and
watched. At last the Doctor rose up from a careful examination of his
little patient.

“I believe,” he said, speaking quietly, “I believe there has been a
change in the symptoms in the past two hours. If I mistake not, the
crisis is past. I think your little one will recover.”

At the sound of these words, Judge Burnham strode over from his station
at the head of the crib, and, grasping the Doctor’s hand, essayed to
speak words, but his voice choked, and the self-possessed, polished
gentleman lost every vestige of control, and broke into a passion of
tears.

“He is in God’s hands, my friend,” the new Doctor said gently; “he will
do right; and I think he has given the little life back to you.”

As for Ruth, she turned one look away from her baby’s face toward the
Doctor’s; and he said as he went out from the home: “I declare that
woman’s eyes paid me to-night.”

There was little talk and much watching during the rest of the night
and the day that followed. Mrs. Erskine kept her post, keeping up that
sort of alert _doing_ which the skillful nurse understands so well,
and which thrills the heart of a watcher with eager hope. One of Judge
Burnham’s first morning duties was to send a curt and courteous note—if
both terms are admissible—to Dr. Bacon, asking for his bill. Then his
own carriage waited at the train for the coming of Dr. Parmelee.

“Now, look here, child,” said Mrs. Erskine, as, toward the midnight of
the following night, Ruth turned for a moment from the crib and pressed
her hand to her eyes, “you are just to go to bed and get a night’s
sleep. We’ll have _you_ on our hands, if you don’t, as sure as the
world; and that will be a nice mess for baby, bless his heart. Judge
Burnham, you just take her and put her to bed. I’m going to sit by my
little boy, here, the whole blessed night; I won’t even wink; and when
I undertake to watch, why I _watch_, and know how, though I do say it
that shouldn’t.”

So, through much protesting from Ruth, and overruling by her father
and husband, she was carried off to the room adjoining. In the gray
dawn of another morning, she, having slept for four hours the sleep of
utter exhaustion, started with a sudden, affrighted waking, wherein
all the agony of the past days flashed over her, and, without waiting
to remember the after-scene of joy, rushed to her nursery. There was
the little crib, with its sleeping treasure; there on the couch, lay
the tired nurse, sleeping quietly; there, at the crib’s side, sat Mrs.
Erskine, keeping her faithful, tireless vigil. She looked up with a
reassuring smile as Ruth came in.

“What did you wake up for? He’s as nice as a robin in a nest of down.
He breathes just as easy! and the skin feels moist and natural. See
how his little hair curls with the dampness! Anybody can see with half
an eye that he is a great deal better. He’ll get on now real fast, Dr.
Parmelee says so. I never did see the like of them little pills! Ain’t
bigger than pin-heads, neither.”

Ruth bent low over the crib. The bounding pulse was quiet and steady
at last; the breath came in slow, soft respirations, with no horrible
gratings; the beautiful little hand, resting on the pillow, was doubled
up as in the grace in which he held it when in health. Suddenly there
rushed over Ruth all the probabilities of that solemn night, and all
the blessings of this hour. After she had given him up utterly to God;
after she had said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust;” after she
had said, “I am thine forever, Lord, _entirely_, though with empty
arms,” then he had given her back her trust—offered her one more chance
to train the soul for him. With the thought came also the remembrance
of the door through which he had opened this blessed paradise of hope,
and she turned suddenly, and, burying her head in Mrs. Erskine’s ample
lap, cried out: “Oh, mother, mother! God bless you forever!” And the
first tears that her tired eyes had felt for a week fell thick and fast.

“Land alive!” said Mrs. Judge Erskine. “Poor, dear heart! You are all
tuckered out! You just go right straight back to bed. I won’t turn my
eyes away from him, and he’s all right anyhow. I know the signs. Bless
your heart, I nursed Mrs. Stevens’ baby only last week, and this very
Dr. Parmelee was there; and I saw what them little pills and powders
could do when the Lord chose to use ’em. You just go back, dearie, this
minute. You can sleep all day as well as not. Grandma’ll take care of
her blessed little darling, so she will.”

And Ruth went back to the bedside, and to her knees; and among the
sentences of her prayer that morning was this, from a full heart:

“O God! I thank thee, that, despite all the blindness and rebellion of
my heart, thou didst send to me a _mother_. Thou hast given me ‘the
oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of
heaviness.’”

                             THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. Sometimes easy-chair contains a
hyphen, sometimes not. This was retained as printed.

Page 102, “Esrkine” changed to “Erskine” (Judge Erskine, with a)

Page 146, “that” changed to “than” (observable than this awkward)

Page 272, “unconsiously” changed to “unconsciously” (silly
Marion—unconsciously)

Page 295, “futher” changed to “further” (until further pressed)

Page 297, “gotton” changed to “gotten” (supper was gotten through)

Page 312, “gotton” changed to “gotten” (have gotten beyond the)

Page 322, “symyathetic” changed to “sympathetic” (put a sympathetic arm)

Page 367, “occured” changed to “occurred” (which occurred that day)

Page 418, “oppresive” changed to “oppressive” (home grew oppressive)

Page 418, “assistence” changed to “assistance” (thoughtful offers of
assistance)

Page 430, “skillfuly” changed to “skillfully” (skillfully, without
commotion)





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